At Trainor, Billman, Bennett, Milko & McCabe, LLP, located in Annapolis, our attorneys assist clients with financially complex divorce, separation, child custody, support and enforcement, property division and other related domestic issues.
Whether you are weighing the possibility of separation and divorce to end marital strife, or your spouse has served you with a petition to dissolve your marriage, you may be confused about the legal process and, undoubtedly, you have many questions.
What are the grounds for divorce in Maryland?
In Maryland, there are two types of divorce, Limited Divorce and Absolute Divorce, and the grounds required for each are different.
Limited Divorce - is a set of temporary rules, established to be in effect until you get your final or absolute divorce. In order to be eligible for a set of temporary rules, one of the following grounds must exist;
- Cruelty by your spouse against you or a minor child, generally referring to a high level of abuse.
- Excessively vicious conduct against you or a minor child
- Voluntary Separation if you are living apart and there is no reasonable hope or expectation of reconciliation.
Absolute Divorce - is the final, permanent set of rules. To be eligible for the final set of rules one of the following grounds must exist at the time you ask the Court to make those rules.
- Voluntary Separation if the separation has continued for 12 months uninterruptedly with no intention of resuming the marriage.
- Two-year separation if you live apart continuously for two years before filing your request for the divorce.
- Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor
Regardless of whether you are going forward with a Limited Divorce or a Final Divorce, the initial process is the same. You begin the process by filing a Complaint with the Court. The Complaint recites your grounds, and lists of facts necessary to support what you are asking the court to do.
What is Service?
Service means putting the Complaint in the hands of your spouse, which may be done by certified mail, by a process server, or a friend or relative. You personally cannot be the one to hand your spouse the papers. Once served your spouse has 30 days to answer the Complaint (unless he/she is served out of state, in which case he/she has 60 days to respond.)
While the procedure in a divorce after Service varies from county to county in Maryland, there are phases to the litigation process, which take place prior to an actual trial.
What is Discovery?
A phase in the litigation process during which both parties are permitted to ask the other any questions and to seek copies of documents that may have any relevance to any of the issues in the case. For example, if alimony is an issue, one of the factors the Court must consider is the relative financial condition of the parties. We would pose questions about your spouse's income and expenses, and ask for copies of pay stubs and tax returns to fully understand that person's financial condition.
Is it true that Maryland Courts require parties in a divorce to attempt to settle cases themselves?
Yes. The Court would prefer NOT to hear your case. Family law cases are among the most difficult to resolve and the most time-consuming to litigate. Nearly all courts in Maryland have devised requirements to force you to get involved and set your own rules. In all cases involving contested custody or visitation issues, one of the first steps required is participation in Court-sponsored mediation.
Although procedures vary from county to county, you and your spouse, along with your respective attorneys, will attend some conference or meeting with a third party administrator, mediator, arbitrator, or settlement facilitator to also negotiate resolution of property and alimony issues.
What is pendente lite?
Literally translated this phrase means "pending litigation" and has come to mean the period between the Court's first temporary order and the final Absolute Divorce. In order to be eligible for such a temporary order, you must either have children or be in need of spousal support.
What is the difference between joint legal custody and sole legal custody?
Maryland law recognizes two kinds of legal custody, joint legal custody and sole legal custody. Neither designation has anything to do with the amount of time the child spends with either parent. Legal custody pertains to parenting roles and decision-making. In sole legal custody, the legal custodian makes unilateral decision concerning the children. The custodian can choose the daycare provider, the school activities, the church and the school the child attends without consulting the other parent. On the other hand, in joint legal custody, the parents work together to make decisions about the children jointly, discussing options, and making mutual decisions with which they both agree.
My spouse and I can't agree on a visitation schedule. What sort of schedule can I expect the court to award me?
Unless you and your spouse can agree, regardless of the custody designation, most judges award a visitation schedule that includes every other weekend, every other holiday, and an extended visit during long school holidays. Often, judges will add one evening or overnight per week, mid-weekend, so that the children never go too long without seeing the non-residential parent. Often too, the court will award a more expansive schedule depending on the roles played by the parties with the child/children prior to the separation, the proximity of the parents' residences to each other and the child's school, the parties' demonstrated ability to get along, and other factors set out in case law.
How is child support determined?
Child support is calculated by a formula set forth in the Maryland Child Support Guidelines which must be used in all cases in which the judge is called upon to make he child support rule. The only exceptions to the law are situations in which the parties' joint monthly gross income exceeds $10,000 per month, or if other allowable factors exist, allowing deviation from the formula. In those cases, you should consult your attorney to determine what those methods are.
How will our property be divided upon divorce?
Maryland is an "equitable distribution" state. This means, essentially, that the court can divide the marital value in whatever percentage it deems to be fair under the circumstances of the parties. In "community property" states, marital property/value is by and large divided exactly down the middle; while that may be the result in Maryland, the court has the latitude under the law to divide it differently. There is a list of factors which the court must review in making its determination as to what is fair. Property that was inherited by one party (if not commingled with marital property), or was received as a gift by one party from a third party outside of the marriage is not marital property and will remain the sole property of the person who received it.
If you have further questions or need trusted legal advice and guidance, concerning a complex divorce or other family law matter, call our Annapolis law firm at (410) 280-1700, to learn how our expert family law team can make a difference in your case.