#FamilyFriday – What Changes in Maryland Family Law Can We Expect to See in 2018?

The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

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On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to bring to your attention some possible changes in Maryland Family Law!  The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

Divorce – Mutual Consent

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, divorce by mutual consent allows spouses to divorce within one (1) year of their separation and is available only to those married couples that have settled all marital issues and do not have any children in common.  Now, for the third time, there is an attempt to allow spouses with minor children in common to obtain a divorce by mutual consent.

Child Support – Driver’s License Suspension

Parents who fail to pay child support could potentially suffer serious consequences such as having their license suspended.  In this session there is an attempt to exempt individuals from having their license suspended if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Child Support – Income

When determining child support, it is only the actual gross income of the parents that are considered.  Even if one of the parent’s is re-married their spouse’s income is not factored into the child support equation.  In this session there is an attempt to allow a Court to consider a parent’s spouse’s income when determining that parent’s child support obligation.  Additionally, under the same considerations, the Court may order payment of attorney fees in proportion of each parties’ adjusted actual incomes.

Visitation and Child Custody – Terms

Currently the term used for describing the time awarded to the non-custodial parent is “visitation.”  Additionally, the term used to describe decision making authority is “child custody.”  In this session there is an attempt to replace the word “visitation” with “parenting time” and the term “child custody” with “legal decision making.”

If you have a family law related issue or question, call the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: Asset Preservation in 3 Easy Steps

Asset preservation is simple; all it takes are three easy steps.  First, know the rules.  Second, know your predators.  Third, know your options. 

By Jessica L. Estes

Asset preservation is simple; all it takes are three easy steps.  First, know the rules.  Second, know your predators.  Third, know your options.

There are two sets of rules: rules that apply during your lifetime and rules that apply after your death.  During your lifetime, your named financial and health care powers of attorney will be able to act for you with respect to your finances and medical/end- of-life decisions, respectively.  These are your rules.  If you do not have these powers of attorney, you should get them; otherwise, your loved ones will have to apply for legal guardianship of you.  Not only does this require certificates of incompetency from two doctors, but it also requires a hearing and/or trial, which can be costly.  And, the court will be involved in your finances and health care decisions until you die.  Guardianship is the government’s rules.

After your death, your Last Will and Testament will take effect and your personal representative, or executor, will distribute your assets to your beneficiaries.  The Will represents your rules, but the Will must be probated, which is a legal process involving court oversight (or, the government’s rules).  Again, this can be costly, ranging from 5% to 20% of the total value of your estate according to AARP, and the personal representative cannot distribute assets to the beneficiaries for a minimum of six months.  Also, probate estates are available for public inspection.  Rather than a Will, you may want to consider a trust, which would bypass the probate process and the government’s involvement.

Now that you know the rules, you need to be aware of your predators.  They include the government (i.e., guardianship, probate, and taxes), long-term care costs (i.e. in-home care, assisted living and nursing homes), family (e.g. a spouse that requires long-term care or a child that is a spendthrift), and lawsuits, either yours or your beneficiaries.

Finally, your options – use the government’s rules or make your own.  By drafting your documents in a way that assures: 1) you are in control, 2) you decide who benefits from your estate plan and 3) you direct when and under what circumstances (e.g. while you are alive and well, incapacitated, and deceased) such benefits are distributed, you have created a proper estate plan that protects not only you, but your family as well, during your lifetime and after.   And remember, most people have documents, but not a plan.  To create your plan today call ERA Law Group at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips – New Guardianship Rules

eing declared incompetent is not something Maryland Judges take lightly.  In fact, in order to provide even more protection to these vulnerable adults, members of the Maryland Guardianship Work Group worked actively to change certain rules.

 

As of January 1, 2018, rules related to Court-Appointed Guardians, Guardianship’s, and Attorneys changed.  In this week’s #TuesdayTips article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group remind our readers the purpose of a Guardianship and what rules have changed.

Many people find themselves in a precarious situation when their spouse, parent, sibling, friend, etc. are no longer able to feed themselves regularly, pay their bills, see the doctor, and just generally not take care of their person or finances.  When a person is no longer able to appropriately care for themselves or manage their property, it is important to ensure that they are protected.  To do so, a Petition for Guardianship of the Person, Property, or both is filed with the Court.

When filing a Petition for Guardianship of the Person and/or Property, the Petitioner is seeking the Court to declare the alleged disabled person incompetent and therefore unable to care for themselves and/or manage their property/finances.  This would let the Petitioner, when appointed Guardian, to act on behalf of the alleged disabled person and make sure they are taken care of physically and financially.

The Petition itself requires various information about the alleged disabled person, including but not limited to their finances, the purpose of the filing, the diagnosis, etc.  Attached as exhibits, the Petition also requires two certificates completed by two different medical providers who have evaluated the alleged disabled person.  After filing, the Court will appoint the alleged disabled person an attorney to represent them in the proceeding.  The Petitioners will also be required to notify certain people and facilities that would need to be made aware of the Petition.  Finally, there will be a hearing to decide whether the findings are such that the Court will declare the person incompetent and appoint a Guardian, presumably the Petitioner.

Being declared incompetent is not something Maryland Judges take lightly.  In fact, in order to provide even more protection to these vulnerable adults, members of the Maryland Guardianship Work Group worked actively to change certain rules.

As of January 1, 2018, the following changes were made:

  1. There are new certificate requirements to be completed depending on whether the medical provider is a physician, psychologist, or licensed certified clinical social worker.
  2. There are now training and eligibility requirements for Court Appointed Attorneys for alleged disabled persons.
  3. Appointed Guardians are now required to undergo an orientation and training so that they have knowledge of their new roles as Guardians of the Person and/or Property of the disabled person.
  4. Additional factors for the Court to consider when determining whether to appoint someone a Guardian who has been convicted of a serious offense or when to require a Guardian to post a bond.

The health, safety, and wellbeing of your friend or family member is of utmost importance.  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today to help navigate you through this process.

Family Law Changes in 2017

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to discuss some recent changes in Maryland Law including the admissibility of Domestic Violence Orders in divorce cases and getting back your maiden name!

Welcome back to #FamilyFriday!  In the last several weeks ERA Law Group, LLC moved to its new location at 20 Ridgely Avenue, Suite 204, Annapolis, Maryland.  We are excited to welcome you to our new office!

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to discuss some recent changes in Maryland Law including the admissibility of Domestic Violence Orders in divorce cases and getting back your maiden name!

Prior to October 1, 2017, Courts could not use the fact that there was a Domestic Violence Order, such as a Protective Order, as a ground for granting a divorce or for considering custody.  This meant that victims of domestic violence could not admit as evidence a Domestic Violence Order s/he had obtained.  Even if s/he did speak of a prior Domestic Violence Order, the Court was obligated to disregard this information when making its decision. As of October 1, 2017, this statute has been repealed and Courts are now permitted to consider and parties may admit into evidence Domestic Violence Orders.

Previously when a party filed for absolute divorce and wished to return to their maiden name, they were required to make such a request in the initial pleading.  If the party failed to do so, they would then have to file a separate pleading requesting a name change.  What should have been a seemingly quick and easy process turned into a burdensome time consuming mess.  Not anymore!  As of October 1, 2017, a former spouse now has eighteen (18) months after the final decree of absolute divorce to return to their maiden name.

If you or someone you know needs help navigating their divorce, tell them to call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#TuesdayTips: Charitable Remainder Trusts

It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

It’s that time of year again… the hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us!  If you are like me, you may still be searching for that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Perhaps this year, as you make your list and check it twice, you may want to consider a charitable remainder trust.

A charitable remainder trust is an irrevocable trust that allows the donor, or anyone else you name, to receive each year either a fixed dollar amount from the trust or a percentage (at least 5%) of the value of the trust.  The right to receive this distribution is either for the individual’s lifetime or for a period of years not to exceed 20 years.  At the end of the term, the amount remaining in the trust is distributed to a qualified charity.  Generally, a qualified charity is one that has been deemed tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service.

Moreover, the charity will serve as trustee of the trust and will be responsible for investing and managing the asset(s) to produce income for you.  Because the charity is also the remainder beneficiary, it has an incentive to increase the value of the trust, which in turn, benefits not only the charity, but you as the income beneficiary of the trust.

In addition to the income benefit, there are three primary tax benefits.  First, after you have transferred the asset(s) to the trust, you may take an income tax deduction, spread over five years.  You are not, however, allowed to deduct dollar for dollar the amount that you gave.  Rather, you are only allowed to deduct the amount of the “gift,” which is the amount donated less the amount of income you are expected to receive.  Second, whatever the charity receives at the end of the trust term, is not subject to estate tax.  Similarly, the donation will not be subject to gift tax based on the amount the “gift,” unless the income beneficiary of the trust is someone other than the donor or their spouse, in which case, there may be a gift tax imposed on the amount of income that is paid to the income beneficiary.  Lastly, because the charity is tax-exempt, there is no capital gains tax on the sale of the asset(s) in the trust.  So, you can turn non-income-producing property that has increased significantly in value from the time at which you acquired it, into cash without having to pay capital gains tax on the profit.  This enables you to invest the full proceeds of the sale into an income-producing asset.

Further, you can elect to have either fixed annuity payments or a percentage of the current value of the trust.  If you choose the fixed annuity, you will receive a fixed dollar amount each year.  This is beneficial if the trust has a lower than expected income return because you will still receive your fixed payment.  Sounds great, but be careful.  The higher your annuity is, the lower your income tax deduction.  Also, if the trust does not generate enough income to cover your annuity payment, then the trust’s principal will be used.  The more principal that is used, the less likely it is that the charity would receive anything at the end of the trust term and consequently, the less likely it is that the charity would accept your donation in the first place.

Conversely, if you elect a percentage of the value of the trust, your payments will reflect any gains or losses in value of the investments each year.  And, it is important to note, that once a decision is made, you cannot change it later.  If you are considering a charitable remainder trust, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 before making a final decision.  Happy gift giving!

#FamilyFriday – Custody Rights Without a Court Order: Common Misconceptions

What many people don’t know is that in the absence of a court order both parents have an equal right to legal custody and physical custody of their minor child. 

By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

You and the other parent have a child together.  You separate or break up but never file any court action.  What are your rights? What about the other parent?  What many people don’t know is that in the absence of a court order both parents have an equal right to legal custody and physical custody of their minor child.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to help clear up some common misconceptions.

MISCONCEPTION #1:  The children always stay with mom.  While this is the most common situation and arrangement, this is certainly not the “only” arrangement.  Fathers have a 100% equal right to be the primary custodial parent just like mothers.

MISCONCEPTION #2:  Fathers have less rights.  Not true.  Fathers and mothers have equal rights with regard to their children.  Both relationships are important.

MISCONCEPTION #3:  We share expenses.  I don’t have to pay child support.  Just because you and the other parent can amicably split the child’s daycare costs, for example, does not negate the award of child support.  You and the other parent may have an agreement that works but if that agreement doesn’t work and if a parent decided to file an action for child support it is likely that child support would be ordered.

MISCONCEPTION #4:  Visitation means “every other weekend.”  Not necessarily.  Especially so if you don’t have school aged children.  More often we are seeing alternative schedules providing both parents with nearly equal time.  Living separate does not necessarily mean you spend less or more time with your child than the other parent.

MISCONCEPTION #5:  We get along great!  We don’t need a written agreement or Court Order.  Perhaps you and the other parent do work well together.  But what happens if that stops?  The purpose of a Court Order or an agreement, is to settle disputes that have occurred and to prevent future disputes from arising.  You and the other parent may get along now but what if there’s a dispute later about where to send the child to school?  How to pay for extracurriculars?  How to have an access schedule when one parent lives 50 miles away?  Having a written agreement or Court Order can prevent some of these issues from ruining the amicable arrangement you have now.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC attorney Valerie Anias, Esq. at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our fixed fee Separation Agreements, Parenting Plans, and FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!