Family law issues are deeply personal and involve emotions including anger, and fear. We understand you want what is best for your family and that you want to work with an attorney who will work hard to help you achieve the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
One of the alternative dispute resolution options that are available is mediation. The process of mediation is often less contentious, and less costly. Mediation may be started at any time; at the beginning of the divorce process, at any time during the process, or may be ordered by the courts. Mediation allows each party in a divorce to work through their differences with the assistance of an independent third-party. In most cases, this process is less adversarial and allows the involved parties to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
Child Custody Matters
Parents are naturally concerned about their children, and that concern is heightened during a divorce. Physical custody, known as residential custody, may be awarded jointly or may be awarded to only one parent with an agreement in place as to parenting time. Legal custody is nearly always granted to both parents, allowing both parents to have a say in their children’s educational, spiritual, and medical decisions. These issues can frequently be worked out between the parents which is better for everyone involved.
Under Maryland law, either spouse may be entitled to collect support. The amount and length of the support is based on numerous factors including the length of time the couple was married. Typically, support payments will last only long enough to allow the spouse receiving support to remain financially stable until such time as they are able to manage financially on their own.
In cases where a spouse is disabled and unable to work, a spouse is unable to obtain a sufficient standard of living that results in what is known as “unconscionably disparate” financial status, and the marriage was long-term, the court may award permanent alimony payments. This is an exception however; most times the court severely curtails the amount of time an ex-spouse is required to make spousal support payments.
Child Support In Maryland
There are specific Maryland child support guidelines which the court will use to determine payments. In most cases, these payments will be made to the parent who has physical custody of the child for the longest period of time. These guidelines take specific factors in addition to the income of the parents into consideration including:
- Cost of food, shelter, and clothing
- Copayments on insurance
- Cost of child daycare expenses for working parents
- Cost of child’s health care insurance
Parents may jointly agree to split certain costs such as college expenses, extracurricular activities, tutoring, or other non-standard expenses. These amounts are not included in the basic guidelines.
Property Rights in Maryland
Maryland follows an equitable distribution of marital property unless there is a prenuptial agreement in place that specifically discusses the division of property. Some property is excluded from division such as property that was inherited by one spouse, property that was owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, or property that may be traced back to one of these sources.
Should the divorcing parties not be able to agree on a settlement on the distribution of property, the court will take steps necessary to distribute the assets of the marriage in a manner which is considered equitable by perhaps not equal. In some cases, the court may order a monetary award to adjust the settlement of the property and ensure equity.
Premarital Agreements Drafting and Review
While anyone may decide to protect themselves with a premarital agreement, they are most common among those who are marrying for a second time. These agreements are designed to not only protect the two involved parties, they can also provide protections for children from previous marriages. Premarital agreements can be used to clarify property each party is bringing into the marriage, spell out which party is responsible for debt they are bringing to the marriage, and clearly explain what should happen to assets that are intended to be passed down to children from a prior marriage.
Some people are hesitant to draw up these agreements because they feel it means they are planning on their marriage failing. Factually, a properly drawn up agreement will protect both parties in the event of a divorce, and protect their children as well.
Alternative dispute resolution offers couples the ability to work through their differences without facing litigation. Collaborative law is a process whereby the parties who are divorcing work through the issues specific to their divorce such as property division, child custody, support matters, and parenting matters. A collaborative approach is not without its drawbacks; both parties enter into the process with their own attorney and each party, including the attorneys agree to not pursue litigation. However, should this approach fail, the parties will then have to secure new legal counsel because of this agreement.
There are numerous benefits to a collaborative approach including the fact that both parties have worked together to reach a suitable resolution to the issues they are facing. This often means their divorce does not become nasty, the costs associated with divorce are lower, and the time to complete the divorce process is shorter. In most cases, this is the best process for couples who will have to deal with each other for years to come because they have children. In some instances, such as cases involving domestic violence, the collaborative approach is not suitable.
Domestic Violence Matters
When you are in fear of your safety, are being harassed, or stalked, you can count on us to assist you in obtaining the appropriate protection orders. Protective orders can be requested against a spouse during a divorce proceeding, against someone whom you have had a relationship of at least 90 days during the prior year, or against someone who is supposed to be a caretaker. One should never have to be concerned about their safety; a protective order allows you to contact law enforcement should the other party violate the terms of the order.
Adoption and Guardianship
Under Maryland law, adoptions may only be completed with the consent of both biological parents for the termination of their parental rights. There are exceptions to this such as in the case of a step parent adoption which does not always terminate the parental rights of the non-custodial parent.
Guardianship is divided into “the person” and “the property”; guardianship of property means the person is making financial decisions on behalf of the person while guardianship of the person is decisions pertaining to the well being of the person. If you are considering an adoption, it is important to work with an attorney who will protect your interests and your privacy.
If you need assistance with any of these family law matters, contact The Law Office of David V. Diggs, L.L.C., located in Millersville/Severna Park and serving the state of Maryland, including Baltimore and Annapolis.