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Divorce Law: Tips from an Annapolis Divorce Attorney

In a marriage, a wife or husband may ask, "what will happen if we separate?," "What are my rights?," "Do I have any right to the property?," "Do I have a right to claim alimony?," "What will happen to the children?".

Consultation with a divorce lawyer can be helpful to begin to understand your legal rights. A divorce attorney's role can be valuable in explaining the laws concerning separation and divorce, custody, visitation, support, alimony, and marital property.

In Maryland, the common grounds for divorce are (1) a voluntary separation, with or without a separation agreement, (2) desertion or abandonment, which can be actual, or "constructive" such as a wife being forced to leave as a result of excessively vicious conduct, (3) adultery, and (4) two-year separation, known as, statutory separation. There are other many grounds, which are less common, listed in the divorce statute, such as the one that applies in an action against a criminal defendant who has a long prison term. Generally, the separation has to be continuous, that is without interruption by the parties resuming the marriage by having sexual relations or sleeping under the same "roof".

Adultery entitles the other spouse to an immediate divorce. Adultery is proven by corraboration, generally by the testimony of another witness. This rule is designed to prevent collusion. The proof may be made by circumstantial evidence showing both "opportunity" and "disposition". An example of opportunity is proof that a spouse spent the night together with a third party. Proof of disposition can be shown by signs of affection with another person. In a contested case, the proof that is required by corroboration need only be slight, such a clear admission by the other spouse.

A divorce based upon a voluntary separation or desertion, also must be "continuous" for a period of one year. The fact of the separation was voluntary can be established by a separation agreement that is reduced to writing and states the spouses voluntarily agreed to separate, and is executed under oath, such as before a notary public. An attorney can be helpful in drafting an agreement that covers divorce, custody, visitation, support, alimony, and marital property.

Below is a checklist of some of the topics of a written marital property and separation agreement. The list is not all inclusive. The checklist is only a sample. An experienced divorce lawyer can draft an agreement which meets the particular needs of your case:

  1. Voluntary Separation - that states that the parties acknowledge that the separation between them is a mutual and voluntary separation.
  2. Child Custody - that names which one shall have sole (or that states that both shall have) legal and which one shall have primary physical care and custody of the children.
  3. Child Support - that names which spouse shall pay directly to other, the agreed amount on the first day of each month, for the support and maintenance of the minor children, in accordance with the mandatory Maryland child support guidelines.
  4. Alimony - that if alimony is agreeable, provides a sum to be paid as temporary, rehabilitative, or indefinite alimony, which meets the criteria of the Internal Revenue Code.
  5. Personal Property - that provides to the extent that the parties can agree, that each party retain his or her own personal belongings including, but not limited to, clothing and jewelry, and other personal property in his or her possession. Alternatively it contains an attached list of the items and their division.
  6. Debts - that provides the responsible party to pay certain debts or alternatively, that each party be responsible for individual unsecured debts incurred since the date of separation and indemnify the other party for joint liability created during that time or in the future.
  7. Real Property - Dwelling House:
    a. Occupancy - names the pary who will occupy and length (for example, until sold).
    b. Mortgage and Utilities - provides that one will pay or both equally or by percentage or amounts.
    c. Sale - date listed, for set amount or best obtainable amount.
    d. Proceeds - division equally or other way of net proceeds after payment of expenses of sale and encumbrances.
  8. Retirement: that provides that the parties each to be entitled to one-half or other formula of any type of retirement or pension fund, accrued by the other during the marriage, and an appropriate retirement order will be prepared regarding the disposition.
  9. Bank and Brokerage Accounts - the balances to be divided equally or by another way.
  10. Motor Vehicles - description of the vehicles and debts on them, and who pays the debt on each vehicle and receives each one.
  11. College Education - the college education, if agreeable, including room and board, tuition and books, through the trusts for each child.
  12. Medical Insurance - current family plan coverage until the parties are divorced and each child as long as each one is able to be covered by such insurance.
  13. Counsel Fees - the payment of counsel fees in connection with this litigation and the preparation of a separation agreement.
  14. Court Costs - the division of any court costs incurred at such time as a Judgment of Divorce may be granted.

Generally, an agreement can be drafted to fulfill the purpose of removing the uncertainty that accompanies obtaining a divorce. At the time of divorce, the agreement can be filed with the court, and the terms and provisions of the agreement can be incorporated as part of the divorce judgment.

Initially, an attorney can be of service for consultations in regard to planning and budgeting. The fees and expenses should be discussed at the outset, as well as the client's objectives and a realistic timetable. Consultation with an attorney can be useful to begin to understand your legal rights. A lawyer's role can be helpful in understanding the law regarding separation and divorce, custody, visitation, support, alimony, and marital property.

MD Divorce Resource Links

Maryland Child Support Enforcement Program
Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence
Maryland Judiciary Divorce / Domestic Relations Forms
Divorce Record at the Maryland State Archive
A Kid's Guide to Divorce
Online Divorce Resource Community
Divorce Support Page