#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: 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!