#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?

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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 – Adultery

Statistics range from 25% to 75% where at least one partner has admitted to committing adultery at some point during their marriage.  Perhaps this makes sense given the 40% to 50% divorce rate in America.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to talk to you about adultery.  Not surprisingly, it is difficult to obtain the rate of adultery in marriages today.  Statistics range from 25% to 75% where at least one partner has admitted to committing adultery at some point during their marriage.  Perhaps this makes sense given the 40% to 50% divorce rate in America.

As discussed in previous blog posts, there are many ways to obtain a divorce.  If there are children and/or unresolved property issues, you must wait at least twelve months to receive your Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  There are a few exceptions to this general rule.  One of these exceptions is if a spouse has committed adultery.  Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and another person that is not their spouse.  Maryland Courts have indicated that any sexual activity can be adulterous even if it does not include intercourse.  This takes into consideration same-sex couples and others who may be engaging in nefarious and inappropriate conduct but stopping at intercourse.

Proving adultery can be problematic.  Sometimes spouses suspect that their partner has been unfaithful but can’t prove it.  In these circumstances, it may be difficult to obtain your divorce within twelve months.  When you do have proof whether it be text messages, catching your spouse, receiving contact from the “other” person, etc., that can be your way to divorce within a year.  In some instances, the adulterous spouse even admits to the adultery.

In the case when adultery is proven or the alleged unfaithful spouse’s actions are highly suspected of adultery, the Court may take this into consideration when making a marital award.  Perhaps they’ll find that the unfaithful spouse deserves less of a marital share than what the Court would have otherwise awarded the spouse.  Perhaps the Court may order the unfaithful spouse pay more alimony or rehabilitative alimony considering their actions.

If you know or believe your spouse has cheated on you, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.  We are here to advocate for you!

#FamilyFriday – Military Retirement Pay, Disability Benefits, and Divorce.

Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorney’s at ERA Law Group, LLC are discussing the recent change in how Court’s treat a service member’s waiver of retirement pay for disability benefits and the effects it may have on the former spouse.  A service member’s retirement pay is considered marital property.  Depending on the length of the marriage and the Court’s Order, a percentage of the marital portion of the retirement pay is reserved for the former spouse upon the service member’s retirement.  Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, a former spouse may now lose a significant amount of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay despite what was awarded to them in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

In Maryland, upon entering a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, couples negotiate what, if any, percentage of the service member’s retirement pay will be awarded to the former spouse. If a service member applies for and receives disability benefits, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) automatically reduces the member’s retirement pension on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  This automatic waiver prevents members from double dipping and receiving both retirement pay and disability benefits.  In practice, in exchange for the disability benefits, a member’s retirement pay is decreased which also results in a decrease for the former spouse.  Put simply, the former spouse will receive a smaller piece of the pie than what was originally contemplated.

Until recently, Maryland and many other states, treated the award of the service member’s retirement pay as a contractual arrangement.  This permitted the former spouse to retain their agreed upon portion of the service member’s retirement pay if and when a service member obtained disability benefits or increased benefits after the divorce which resulted in a waiver of their retirement pay.  The Court interpreted the waiver as a dilution of the former spouse’s share.  Finding this arrangement unfair, Maryland Courts continued to enforce the award in the Judgment of Absolute Divorce.  In other words, the service member was still required to pay the difference.

A recent Supreme Court decision, Howell v. Howell, has changed the way Maryland and other states have treated such circumstances.  Now – regardless of what the award was – a former spouse is only entitled to receive a portion of the retirement pay even if that retirement pay is now significantly smaller.  The Supreme Court suggested that state courts consider the unreliability of the former spouse’s portion of retirement pay when making a marital award and, if applicable, compensate the spouse elsewhere.  For example, perhaps this would increase alimony or a lump sum award.

If you are a military spouse, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to ensure your rights and benefits are protected!