#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 – 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!

#TuesdayTips – Domestic Violence: Protective Order or Peace Order?

Unfortunately, it is likely that you or someone you know has been a victim of abuse which may or should have resulted in a Protective Order or Peace Order.   On this week’s #TuesdayTips article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to explain the difference between Protective Orders and Peace Orders in order to help victims best protect themselves as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, it is likely that you or someone you know has been a victim of abuse which may or should have resulted in a Protective Order or Peace Order.   On this week’s #TuesdayTips article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to explain the difference between Protective Orders and Peace Orders in order to help victims best protect themselves as quickly as possible.

A Protective Order is ordered by a judge and instructs the abuser to stop committing a specific act or set of acts against others.  To be eligible for a protective order you must have fall within one of the following relationship categories: (a) current or former spouse, (b) residing together in an intimate relationship for at least 90 days within the year of filing, (c) related by blood, marriage or adoption, (d) have a parent-child or stepparent-stepchild relationship and resided together for at least 90 days within the year of filing, (e) have a caretaker-vulnerable adult relationship, (f) be parents of a child together, and/or (g) have had a sexual relationship within a year of filing.

Unlike a Protective Order, a Peace Order is a form of protection for anyone who is experiencing some sort of problem with an individual such as a neighbor, stranger, etc.  When filing a Peace Order the relationship between the parties is not a factor.

What a Judge can and cannot order also varies based on the type of Order requested.  In both cases, a Judge can order the abuser to stop abusing you and to stay away.  In the case of a Peace Order, a Judge can also order counseling, mediation, and for the abuser to pay the court costs and filing fees.  Because a Protective Order involves more intimate relationships, a Judge can also impose more restrictions and make additional awards.  For example, a Protective Order can award temporary custody or visitation, emergency family maintenance (or, financial support) to be paid by the abuser, award possession of any pet, award use and possession of a jointly titled car, etc.  It can also order the abuser to stay out of the marital home, stay away from your child’s school, and to stay away from and not contact family members.

We’re here to help.  If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse and needs help, contact ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#FamilyFriday – How is Child Support Calculated?

Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys’ at ERA Law Group, LLC want to explain exactly how child support is calculated.  Frequently parents are confused by the child support calculation when considering their other bills and obligations.  What many don’t realize is that in nearly all scenarios the amount of child support ordered is determined by a calculator and factors such as “I have student loans” or “I have rent to pay” don’t necessarily matter.

Maryland uses a Child Support Guideline formula to calculate child support.  Both parents are required to complete a Financial Statement which outlines the various components of that formula.  First, the parents identify their actual monthly income.  This would include salary, Social Security benefits, alimony, etc.  Second, the parents then identify earlier child support or alimony obligations – per Court Order – which will reduce their actual monthly income.  This is called their adjusted monthly income.  Third, if there are any work related child care expenses, health insurance expenses, or extraordinary medical expenses such as braces, those will also be identified by both parents.

Once both parties’ have identified the above, the formula then predicts what percentage of the parents combined income would have been attributed to the child(ren) had they continued living together.  This number is then used to determine the “basic child support obligation.”  The additional factors such as work-related child care and health insurance are incorporated to determine the “total child support obligation” that the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying to the custodial parent.  Some exceptions exist, such as, if a parent receives Social Security Income, food stamps, or transitional services which would not be considered actual monthly income.

If you or a loved one need help obtaining child support for your children, call ERA Law Group today at (410) 919-1790 or visit our website at www.eralawgroup.com!

#FamilyFriday – Can I Get Alimony?

When there’s a large disparity in income, assets, debts, etc. some spouses fear life without the financial contribution from their spouse and ask if they would be entitled to alimony.  The answer is maybe.

Spouses take on various financial roles in a marriage.  Some stay home, some work part-time while the other is the breadwinner, and some play equal roles.  When there’s a large disparity in income, assets, debts, etc. some spouses fear life without the financial contribution from their spouse and ask if they would be entitled to alimony.  The answer is maybe.  This week’s #FamilyFriday article breaks down the road to obtaining alimony.

In Maryland, the Court has a number of factors it must consider when determining an alimony award.  Some of these factors include each parties ability to be self-supporting, a party’s ability to obtain suitable employment, length of marriage, standard of living, the age of each party, any agreements between the parties and the health of the parties.  Some factors play bigger roles in the Court’s decision-making process than others.  For example, a spouse married for 30 years, in their 60s, and  having been a stay at home parent may be in a greater position of obtaining alimony than a marriage less than 5 years with both spouses making equal salaries.

After analyzing the various factors the Court can: (a) decline to award alimony, (b) award temporary alimony, or (c) award permanent/indefinite alimony.  When presenting your case for an alimony award, your attorney should strongly advocate those factors which play an important role in your case.  Your attorney should place emphasis on the length of marriage, the disparity in income, the likelihood of the less economically stable spouse to become more economically stable, the need for additional education, and, if applicable, highlight the circumstances surrounding the divorce.  A party who has physically and emotionally abused their spouse who is seeking alimony would play a far great role in the Court’s decision making than the couple who is seeking a divorce based on a voluntary separation.

In the event you and your spouse can reach an agreement about alimony, you should also consider some potential alternatives.  The alimony paying spouse may not want to have a monthly payment but may be willing to make a one-time large sum payment.  For example, perhaps the alimony paying spouse would rather offer you their share of the equity in the home than pay you alimony each month for the next 5 years.  When reaching an agreement you should speak with an attorney to be sure you don’t, or understand the consequences if you do, waive alimony.

Divorce is an emotional roller coaster.  You may not know what questions to ask, what rights you have, and what you may be entitled to but the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today can help!

#FamilyFriday – Adoption

Adoption is the legal process of creating a parent and child relationship and can take many forms.

For this #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to talk about adoption.  Adoption is the legal process of creating a parent and child relationship.  Adoption can take place in many forms.  For example, a stepparent may be adopting their partner’s child or perhaps grandparents are looking to adopt a grandchild.  Many people tend to think of adoption involving a minor child but don’t know that adults can also be adopted.  Establishing the parent/child relationship is important on an emotional level but also serves a legal and financial purpose.  An adopted child can receive state and federal benefits of their parents that without the adoption only a biological child would be entitled to receive.

The process of adopting, unlike many other court appearances, is usually joyous.  After gathering the required paperwork and filing the petition, all parties appear before a Judge and celebrate the new and legally recognized family.  There are also adoption proceedings that are contested by a biological parent and don’t carry the same joyous feeling.  In either case, finding an attorney to help you through the legal process is beneficial in creating or maintaining your family.

Taking the necessary steps to protect your family is important and ERA Law Group, LLC wants to help!  Call us today at (443) 906-3566!

#TuesdayTips – When to NOT Do-It-Yourself

Many individuals find themselves in a precarious situation when they decide to handle certain matters without an attorney.  These “cost saving measures” sometimes result in quite a heavy burden.

This week’s #TuesdayTips article comes one day after a recent United States Tax Court ruling in the case of Summers v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (Docket No. 32259-15).  Many individuals find themselves in a precarious situation when they decide to handle certain matters without an attorney.  These “cost saving measures” sometimes result in quite a heavy burden.

In this specific case, Mr. Summers and his wife divorced amicably and decided to move forward without attorneys.  Pursuant to their agreement, Mr. Summers was to withdraw funds from his IRA and provide them to his wife.  Typically, this is done via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).  Pursuant to 26 U.S. Code Section 72(t)(1), distributions from a QDRO are exempt from the 10% additional tax typically imposed on early distributions.  Unbeknownst to Mr. Summers, taking an early distribution made directly to himself would not qualify for the tax exemption even though he immediately transferred said funds to his wife for her sole benefit.  As a result of an honest mistake, Mr. Summers was forced to suffer the 10% early distribution tax.

Don’t let yourself fall victim to an honest mistake.  The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee QDRO services!  Call us today at (443) 906-3566.