#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!

#FamilyFriday – My Kids Don’t Want to Follow the Visitation Schedule

Children are not involved in the process of establishing custody, visitation, and support.  So, what happens when they don’t like the outcome?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group discuss what a parent’s role is when their children refuse to go to visitation.

The parents have filed suit, went to mediation, attended trial, or settled their issues as they relate to child custody, visitation, and support.  As a result, the parents have a visitation and holiday schedule, established modes of communication, and settled on child support.  The parents are satisfied or as best as they can be in the situation.  Anything missing?  The children.  Children are not involved in the process of establishing custody, visitation, and support.  So, what happens when they don’t like the outcome?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys of ERA Law Group discuss what a parent’s role is when their children refuse to go to visitation.

When determining custody, the Court’s are provided with many factors to consider when making their decision.  One of those factors is – what do the children want?  However, Judges are hesitant to permit a child to come to Court.  On the rare occasion and generally when the child is mature enough to handle the situation, Judges will speak with the child in chambers without the presence of his or her parents.  Even in those situations where the child does have an opportunity to express their desires, Judges may ultimately make a determination as to visitation that does not coincide with the child’s preferences.  Or, in less litigious circumstances, parents will settle their disagreements and make a visitation schedule that is best for themselves and what they believe is in the best interest of their children.  Again, the children may not agree.

When I get the call from a parent stating that their children don’t want to go attend visitation, it often goes like this:

Parent:  “My child refuses to see their parent during the scheduled time, what do I do?”

Answer: “Until your child is 18, it is not up to your children.  You, as their parent, must make sure that they adhere to the visitation schedule.”

Parent: “But, s/he is 17 and literally refuses.  How am I physically supposed to make them?”

And, that is the problem.  No, it is not expected that you physically force your children out the door but it is expected that you encourage them to attend, not create a barrier for them to attend, and, most importantly, not applaud your child’s refusal to attend.  Be sure to discuss the issue with the other parent and discuss possible resolutions.  Be sure to keep the lines of communication open between your child and the other parent so that the child communicates his/her desires to both of you equally.

If you find yourself and children in this situation, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC and ask what options you may have available.  Perhaps it is time to modify the current arrangement or explore other options.  Call us today for a FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION at (410) 919-1790.

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.

#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.

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 – 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: Help, I’ve Been Served!

Most people are not surprised when they are served with divorce papers.  But what do you do when you are served?

By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

Most people are not surprised when they are served with divorce papers.  But what do you do when you are served?  What if your spouse has an attorney and you don’t?  What if you don’t want the divorce?  What if you don’t agree with the reasons your spouse has listed for the divorce?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to help you know what to do next!

Many people feel that being the Plaintiff or Defendant matters.  Truth is, it doesn’t.  There are benefits to both.  Just because your spouse served you with divorce papers does not mean that they may not be at fault for the divorce or that they’re automatically in a superior position.  All this means is that they will be presenting their case first.  And, don’t worry.  You’ll present your case next!

What have you been served with?  You will have a summons.  That is the paper that orders the Plaintiff to serve you.  You will also have a copy of the pleading filed.  That is the Complaint for divorce and their request for relief.  This may include child support, custody, alimony, division of marital property, etc.  You will also receive a copy of their Domestic Case Information Report which is simply a cover letter identifying the parties and type of action.

Now what?  After you have been served you will have 30 days (or 60 days if you’re out of state) to file an answer.  This is important because if you fail to file an answer the Plaintiff can file a Motion for Default.  If the Motion is granted and you are found in Default, the Court may award all of the relief directly to the Plaintiff without giving you an opportunity to present your case.  Don’t let this happen.  You should always respond to Court documents!

You can also file a Counter-Complaint.  Perhaps the Plaintiff’s complaint fails to state that they had been cheating on you, for example.  You may want to file a Counter-Complaint alleging adultery, for example.  A procedural benefit of filing a Counter-Complaint is that if the Plaintiff decides they no longer want to pursue the case but you still do, your Counter-Complaint will keep the case moving forward.

Once the Complaint has been served and you’ve filed your answer, the Court will schedule a hearing to get the status of the case and schedule the important dates for the rest of the case.

If you’ve been served, call ERA Law Group, LLC attorney Valerie E. Anias, Esq. at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!