#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? 

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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: 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!

#FamilyFriday – I’m Getting Divorced: What Happens in Court?

A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide? 

A source of worry and concern for many clients involve what to expect when they go to Court for their divorce.  What will  my spouse’s attorney ask me?  What dirty laundry is going to be shared?  What will the Judge decide?  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to give an overview of what it will actually look like in a courtroom the day of your hearing.

First, it’s important to point out that no matter what sort of courtroom you’re in, some things don’t change and all parties should remember.  For example, make sure to look presentable and put together.  Remember that the Judge can see everything and will notice if you’re laughing, rolling your eyes, or make any other facial or physical gesture.  And, most importantly, be honest.

Second, getting divorced is emotional.  It often involves children, hurt feelings, betrayal, loss of love, etc.  Stay calm and be prepared to be emotionally challenged.  This is part of the process and it is to be expected.  Your attorney will be there to help protect you and make your voice heard.

Third, many times last minute settlement discussions occur.  Often this happens just minutes before your hearing.  Don’t feel pressured to take a settlement.  Listen to what is being offered, considered what you want and how far off the offer is from your wants, and speak/listen to your attorney.  If you are the one suggesting a settlement, the same considerations apply.  Make sure you can separate your feelings and emotions from the case in a way that lets you see the potential settlement in the most rational and logical situation.  If you do not want to settle, say so.  Make your attorney aware so that s/he knows to deny any potential offering and move straight to trial.

The process is the same regardless of the county, Judge, or attorney.  If you are the Plaintiff – that is the person who filed the case – you will present your case first.  This will begin with an opening statement, calling witnesses, calling you, and presenting evidence.  Your testimony is arguably the most important piece of your case.  It is your voice, your basis for filing, your argument, and proving why what you want should be granted.  To do so, your attorney will call witnesses and present evidence to further support your testimony.  Presumably these witnesses are people who will show you as a great parent, good spouse, kind person etc.  Some witnesses may also be daycare providers, employers, etc.  Other times, you may call a witness to prove something.  For example, you may want to subpoena your spouses’ lover to prove s/he has cheated.

Your spouse’s attorney will then have an opportunity to ask you and your witnesses questions.  This process is called Cross Examination.  Your attorney will object to some questions asked and/or evidence presented.  If you hear your attorney object, stop talking.  The Judge will need to rule on whether or not to allow you (or your witness) to answer the question.  Be calm and be honest.  You may feel pressured, put on the spot, nervous, etc. and that’s okay.  Remember you have an attorney and s/he is there to protect you.

After you’ve presented your case, the Defendant will be given an opportunity to present their case.  They will be able to and will likely do the same things you did – the Defendant will testify, his/her witnesses and present evidence.  Your attorney will then have an opportunity to Cross Examine the Defendant and his/her witnesses.

When the Defendant concludes their case, both attorneys will have an opportunity to present closing arguments.  These arguments are spoken to the Judge and tend to recap what happened at trial, highlight important testimony or pieces of evidence in support of their case, and ask the Judge to do grant their client’s wishes.

Once the Judge has heard both sides and collected the evidence that has been presented, s/he will likely go back into their chambers to review and make a decision.  If the case is long, has many documents, many witnesses, etc. the Judge may state that they will make their decision in writing and dismiss the parties to wait on receiving that decision.  If the Judge does make the decision that day, s/he will return to the courtroom and state their decision for both parties to hear.

For questions and to talk about your case, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask to schedule your FREE 30 MINUTE CONSULTATION!

 

 

#FamilyFriday – Absolute Divorce v. Limited Divorce

Many families are confused about the difference between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help explain the two types divorce.

Many families are confused about the difference between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help explain the two types divorce.

An absolute divorce is absolute and terminates the marriage.  Any award made by the Court under the limited divorce may be finalized and incorporated into the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

A limited divorce is a legal separation.  When a party files for a limited divorce it usually means one of the following: (1) the grounds for an absolute divorce have not been met, (2) there is an immediate need for financial relief, and (3) the parties cannot work amicably to settle their differences.  During the limited divorce, the parties are still married, cannot enter into sexual relations with other persons, and must live separately.  The Court may determine which party is at fault, child custody, child support, health insurance coverage, and make additional awards.

Many couples file a Complaint for Limited Divorce or, in the alternative, an Absolute Divorce for tactical reasons.  For example, perhaps your spouse refuses to discuss some or all the issues such as establishing an access schedule, paying child support, contributing to household expenses, etc.  If your spouse won’t have these conversations you may want to immediately file in order to obtain said support.  Because it may take nearly a year, or more, for the Court to schedule your final hearing, you may end up meeting the requirements for an absolute divorce.  In the off chance you don’t, filing the limited divorce may get your spouse to work amicably with you or, at the very least, adhere to an Order of the Court.

If you are separated and need assistance, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

Federal Special Needs Trusts: An Overview

You might be wondering: what is a special needs trust (SNT)? A SNT is a specific kind of trust that can receive and hold property and/or money for an individual with special needs and it will not impact that individual’s right to receive those government benefits he or she had been previously receiving.

One common scenario routinely encountered when planning a client’s estate is figuring out a way to allow a child with special needs to receive an inheritance from a parent (or other loved one) without it adversely impacting that child’s Social Security or Medicaid benefits.  As estate planners, we often resort to using special needs trusts (also commonly known as supplemental needs trust) in the parents’ estate plans.

You might be wondering: what is a special needs trust (SNT)?   A SNT is a specific kind of trust that can receive and hold property and/or money for an individual with special needs and it will not impact that individual’s right to receive those government benefits he or she had been previously receiving.

There are two main categories of federally recognized SNT’s—d(4)(A) and d(4)(C).   These are known as Medicaid pay-back trusts.  The most commonly used federal SNT is the d4A trust, being named after its location in the United State’s Code 1396p(d)(4)(A).  This trust uses the disabled person’s money to fund the trust, and the disabled person is named as the beneficiary of that trust.  Often times, a parent, guardian or attorney is named as the Trustee to oversee and manage the Trust as there are very strict guidelines related to disbursements from the trust.  When the trust beneficiary dies, any money remaining in the Trust must be used to pay back the State of Maryland (or other state) for any amounts it paid out in Medicaid benefits for the beneficiary.

The other common federal SNT is a d(4)(C).  This type of SNT is called a “pooled special needs trust” meaning the assets of the individual are pooled together with the assets of others for investment and management purposes and managed by a non-profit entity.  Don’t worry though, the assets of the individual are kept separate and accounted for until the beneficiary dies at which point the assets pay back the state Medicaid agency.  Any left-over funds are retained by the asset pool.

If you are concerned about special needs planning, the attorneys at the ERA Law Group, LLC are here to help!

#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!