#FamilyFriday – What is Discovery?

Discovery is a process used to provide each party an opportunity to obtain evidence related to the opposing party’s case.

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Discovery is a process used to provide each party an opportunity to obtain evidence related to the opposing party’s case.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to describe the process, its purpose, and what you should expect.

Discovery usually takes place shortly after the Plaintiff files their complaint.  Maryland Rules allow for different forms of discovery.  The two most common forms of discovery are Requests for Answers to Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents.

A Request for Answers to Interrogatories is a series of questions that one party serves on another party to be answered.  Maryland Rule allows for a maximum of 30 questions to be served.  There are standard questions involving your income, assets, personal information, etc. and then there are custom questions that will specifically relate to the issue at hand.  For example, in a custody dispute there may be a specific question about why one parent refused visitation on certain dates.

A Request for Production of Documents is a series of requests for specific documents that one party serves on another party.  In responding to the request you simply state whether you have the document or will produce the document.  In accordance with those responses, you then provide the documents.  There is no limit to how many document requests you may ask.  Many of these requests are also standard and ask for documents such as your bank statements, communications between the parties, etc.  You may also ask for specific questions.  For example, if you’ve learned your spouse was cheating on you with another person, you may ask for copies of all communications with that specific person.

Each party has a right to object to any interrogatory or document request, however, there must be a basis for the objection and that reason must be stated.  For example, in any case involving children, a parties income is going to be relevant and necessary for the purpose of establishing child support.  If in this example you ask for paystubs and the other party objects, you will need to take the necessary steps to compel that party to provide their paystub.  Generally this first involves a letter demanding the production then a Motion to Compel if the production does not occur.

We often hear clients complain and say that discovery is a “waste of time” or that “s/he already knows this information” or “why do I have to answer this?”  The response to all of this information is simple; discovery is important.  Discovery allows your attorney to see what sort of items the other party is focusing on and perhaps get a glimpse into their strategy.  Interrogatories are also signed under oath and provide an opportunity to get a sworn statement of sorts from the opposing party.  Additionally, once everything is on the table it sometimes becomes easier to have a more honest settlement discussion.

If you have been served with discovery, don’t wait.  The rules only allow for 30 days to respond.  Instead, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you!

#FamilyFriday – Filing Exceptions

What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?

As previously discussed in an earlier #FamilyFriday article, the Court, upon request, will schedule a Pendente Lite (PL) hearing while the parties wait for their final hearing.  What happens if you disagree with the Court’s order for Pendente Lite relief?  What if the Court denies any Pendente Lite relief?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss the process for filing Exceptions.

As a reminder, Pendente Lite is a Latin term that translates to “awaiting/pending the litigation.”  Maryland Courts use a Pendente Lite hearing as an opportunity to create a temporary order related to child support, custody, visitation, spousal support, and/or use and possession of the marital home while the parties await the final hearing on the merits.  If you don’t have an arrangement, aren’t seeing your child, aren’t receiving child support, etc., you will want to be sure a Pendente Lite hearing is scheduled as soon as possible.

In most counties this hearing takes place before a Magistrate.  A Magistrate takes the place of a Judge but don’t issue Orders.  They issue Proposed Orders.  At the PL hearing, the Magistrate will hear the case presented by both parties as to why there should or should not be temporary relief and, if so, how much is fair and reasonable.  The Magistrate then states their finding and submits a Proposed Order.  After 10 days, the Proposed Order is sent to a Circuit Court Judge for a signature effectively making the Proposed Order an Order.

Why the 10 days?  At the conclusion of the PL hearing, both parties have 10 days to file “Exceptions.”  Exceptions are written reason(s) why the Magistrate’s Proposed Order should not be signed by the Judge.  For example, perhaps the Magistrate decided to award more child support than the paying party believes is fair.  The paying party would have 10 days to file Exceptions detailing why the Magistrate’s ruling should not be adopted by the Judge.

The Exceptions process is very similar to an appeal and should not be taken lightly.  There are many requirements involving the timing of the filing, the contents of the Exceptions, the timing for requesting a Transcript, the hearing, etc.  By failing to file timely exceptions or abiding by the statute, you could lose your ability to challenge the Proposed Order.

If you disagree with the Proposed Order for Temporary Relief, call ERA Law Group, LLC ASAP at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you get the relief you need!

#FamilyFriday – Split Households & the Holiday Season

It’s difficult for families to decide how to split holidays when they separate.  Neither parent or family want to experience their holidays without their children.  So, what do you do? 

It’s difficult for families to decide how to split holidays when they separate.  Neither parent or family want to experience their holidays without their children.  So, what do you do?  What are your options?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC discuss various options for developing a fair and reasonable access schedule.

First, as previously discussed in a #FamilyFriday article, Parenting Plans are a great tool to discuss and resolve these issues before the stress and onset of the holiday season.  As a reminder, Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future.  Attorneys and mediators can help you create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  For example, perhaps both parents are adamant about wanting to spend Christmas with their children.  The fact of the matter is that the children can only wake up once on Christmas morning and how to decide who will experience that can raise a lot of emotion.  One way to resolve this is to alternate years so that one parent has the full Christmas holiday on even years and the other during odd years.  Another way to resolve this is one parent has the children Christmas Eve through Christmas morning and the other has the children from mid-Christmas morning for the remainder of the day.  These types of arrangements are best to be discussed outside of the courtroom as they can involve a lot of detail and negotiating.

Second, talk with the other parent and see if maybe certain holidays are more important to them than they are you.  Creating a schedule or agreement that allows for each parent to have or enjoy the days that are important to them in exchange for those that are important to you can settle future disputes.  For example, perhaps it’s your family tradition to go “big” for Thanksgiving but less so for Christmas.  Maybe you can agree that you’ll have the children for Thanksgiving and the other parent on Christmas.

Third, though uncommon, if you and the other parent are able to co-parent and share some or all holidays that could resolve any disagreement about who should have the children and when.  This can be difficult depending on the relationship between you and the other parent.

Fourth, alternating holidays so that, for example, the parent who does not have the children on Thanksgiving will have them for Christmas or the parent who does not have the children Memorial Day Weekend will have them Labor Day Weekend.

Regardless of the arrangement, always place agreements in writing.  This allows both parents to be held accountable for upholding the arrangement and preventing an issue in the future.  Try and deal with these potential and likely issues before they become bigger issues.

If you need assistance or would like to explore Mediation or Parenting Plans, contact ERA Law Group, LLC attorney Valerie E. Anias, Esq. at (410) 919-1790 and ask about the FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION.

#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!

#FamilyFriday – Mediating Family Disputes

Sometimes costly litigation can be avoided with mediation.  Especially in family law related matters, mediation could be key to ensure that the issues involving your family are decided by your family. 

Sometimes costly litigation can be avoided with mediation.  Especially in family law related matters, mediation could be key to ensure that the issues involving your family are decided by your family.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to explain the pros and cons of mediation.

Mediation is a process of resolving disputes outside of the Courtroom.  A third-party neutral, often a lawyer or retired judge, will attempt to facilitate fruitful conversations between the parties to find common ground, highlight that ground, and hopefully create an environment which will lend itself to a settlement.  An important factor of mediation is that it is not the mediator’s job to create the settlement.  Whether a settlement occurs is always left to the parties.  The mediator is there to facilitate the conversations so that the parties can discuss their positions, opinions, wants, etc. in the best manner possible.

In cases involving family matters such as divorce, child custody, child support, and/or marital property settlement, having a third-party neutral is imperative.  When feelings are at an all-time high, it is difficult to set aside those feelings.  Mediation can offer the environment necessary to have those feelings heard while simultaneously engaging in a meaningful conversation about the issues at hand.  In situations where there is abuse or an uncooperative party, mediation may not be the best method.

To help identify whether mediation is the right process for you, below is a list of its pros and cons:

PROS

  • Save money and avoid costly litigation.
  • The parties decide what is best for them and their family rather than a Judge not familiar with the family or dynamic.
  • The parties have an opportunity to use their voice in ways that a courtroom would not permit.
  • The parties control and orchestrate the settlement, not their attorneys or a judge.
  • Parties may settle more issues that may not be appropriate for a courtroom.
  • Perhaps a total settlement isn’t possible but could limit the issues for court.

CONS

  • History of fear or abuse would render mediation impossible and, if forced, only perpetuate those fears and the abuse.
  • In highly contentious relationships, some parties may only “listen” if a Judge is issuing an Order.
  • There’s a sense of finality in a courtroom that may not be present in mediation.
  • If one party is not willing to engage in any conversation it may be impossible to have a meaningful mediation.
  • One party may not make a good faith effort to disclose vital information.

If you are looking to hire a third-party neutral to mediate disputes in your family or want to know if mediation is right for you, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#FamilyFriday – Pendente Lite (“PL”) Hearings

You’ve filed an action in Court for child custody, child support, and/or visitation.  Meanwhile it’s been months since you’ve gotten financial support, visitation is inconsistent, and you’re concerned with the current living arrangements.  Your hearing date is months away or worse, not even scheduled.  What do you while you wait for your hearing? 

You’ve filed an action in Court for child custody, child support, and/or visitation.  Meanwhile it’s been months since you’ve gotten financial support, visitation is inconsistent, and you’re concerned with the current living arrangements.  Your hearing date is months away or worse, not even scheduled.  What do you while you wait for your hearing?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorney’s at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help families understand how to obtain temporary relief by way of a Pendente Lite hearing.

When couples divorce, separate, or parent in different households many find it difficult to decide how much child support, who should pay it, when they should pay it, and what visitation schedule is fair.  In the event an agreement cannot be reached or an informal arrangement is not working, one parent is often forced take action and ask the Court to enter an Order setting child support, custody, and visitation.  Unfortunately, in many counties it could take 6 or more months until a hearing date is set to settle the issues between the parties.  In that interim period parties are often at a loss as to how to deal with support or visitation.

Pendente Lite is a Latin term that translates to “awaiting/pending the litigation.”  Maryland Courts use a Pendente Lite hearing as an opportunity to create a temporary order related to child support, custody, visitation, and/or use and possession of the marital home while the parties await the final hearing on the merits.  In highly litigious cases, this also provides a good opportunity to get a glance at the other parties’ argument in support of their case for custody, support, and/or visitation and prepare accordingly for the final trial.  In some cases, the Pendente Lite hearing also encourages the parties’ to settle their dispute prior to the scheduled trial.

In most counties the Court will ask whether a Pendente Lite hearing is necessary during one of your first appearances at Court.  If you and the other party do have an agreement or arrangement, you may not find it necessary.  If you don’t have an arrangement, aren’t seeing your child, aren’t receiving child support, etc., you will want to be sure a Pendente Lite hearing is scheduled as soon as possible.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help you get the relief you need as soon as possible!

#FamilyFriday – Contempt

The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. 

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC are addressing individuals who have fallen victim to an ex-spouse or parent who refuses to abide by the Court’s Order.  You’ve gotten divorced or filed suit for custody and support, the Judge made their determination and you received a Court Order outlining that decision.  What happens when one person decides not to listen?

Contempt is when one party decides to act in contradiction of the Court or Court Order.  The very purpose of receiving a Court Order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  That intentional decision to ignore or act inconsistently with a Court Order is important because it qualifies the contempt as willful.  Being in willful contempt of a Court Order can have serious ramifications.  The contempt-ing party may be subject to a fine, attorney fees, and in serious cases, jail.

The contempt-ing party also creates various consequences for the other party.  For example, say a provision of the Order requires Parent A to pay one half of private school tuition to the school directly and Parent A refuses to pay.  If Parent A refuses to pay their share of the child’s private tuition than Parent B may have to come out-of-pocket for the balance and, if they can’t, their child may not be able to return the following year.  These and similar situations wreak havoc – financially and emotionally – for the party who correctly abides by the Court Order.

If you are being forced to endure the consequences of someone who has decided not to adhere to your Court Order, call your advocates at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (443) 906-3566!