#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 – 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!

#FamilyFriday – Parenting Plans

You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to discuss the importance of Parenting Plans.  You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  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.

Frequently parties obtain their divorce, receive their Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and some form of an access schedule, holiday schedule, and child support.  What happens when this changes?  What about claiming the children on your taxes?  What about switching schools?  Sports?  Doctors?  The Judgment of Absolute Divorce is frequently silent on many of these issues which results in continuous litigation.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.

Attorneys and mediators can help you and your family create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  Additionally, attorneys and mediators often know what questions to ask, problems to prepare for, things to consider that many parents in the moment don’t think about.  Most importantly, settling the disputes between the spouses when it comes to them as parents also make the divorce process less painful for children.  Their parents may not be married but their family will have consistency and a plan in place.

Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our mediation and parenting plan services!

#FamilyFriday – Mediating Family Disputes

Sometimes costly litigation can be avoided with mediation.  Especially in family law related matters, mediation could be key to ensure that the issues involving your family are decided by your family. 

Sometimes costly litigation can be avoided with mediation.  Especially in family law related matters, mediation could be key to ensure that the issues involving your family are decided by your family.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC wants to explain the pros and cons of mediation.

Mediation is a process of resolving disputes outside of the Courtroom.  A third-party neutral, often a lawyer or retired judge, will attempt to facilitate fruitful conversations between the parties to find common ground, highlight that ground, and hopefully create an environment which will lend itself to a settlement.  An important factor of mediation is that it is not the mediator’s job to create the settlement.  Whether a settlement occurs is always left to the parties.  The mediator is there to facilitate the conversations so that the parties can discuss their positions, opinions, wants, etc. in the best manner possible.

In cases involving family matters such as divorce, child custody, child support, and/or marital property settlement, having a third-party neutral is imperative.  When feelings are at an all-time high, it is difficult to set aside those feelings.  Mediation can offer the environment necessary to have those feelings heard while simultaneously engaging in a meaningful conversation about the issues at hand.  In situations where there is abuse or an uncooperative party, mediation may not be the best method.

To help identify whether mediation is the right process for you, below is a list of its pros and cons:

PROS

  • Save money and avoid costly litigation.
  • The parties decide what is best for them and their family rather than a Judge not familiar with the family or dynamic.
  • The parties have an opportunity to use their voice in ways that a courtroom would not permit.
  • The parties control and orchestrate the settlement, not their attorneys or a judge.
  • Parties may settle more issues that may not be appropriate for a courtroom.
  • Perhaps a total settlement isn’t possible but could limit the issues for court.

CONS

  • History of fear or abuse would render mediation impossible and, if forced, only perpetuate those fears and the abuse.
  • In highly contentious relationships, some parties may only “listen” if a Judge is issuing an Order.
  • There’s a sense of finality in a courtroom that may not be present in mediation.
  • If one party is not willing to engage in any conversation it may be impossible to have a meaningful mediation.
  • One party may not make a good faith effort to disclose vital information.

If you are looking to hire a third-party neutral to mediate disputes in your family or want to know if mediation is right for you, call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#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!

#FamilyFriday – Fast Track to Divorce

Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to help you get divorced and quick.  Many people get married and mutually agree that a divorce is what’s right for them.  Prior to 2015, if you wanted a divorce you had to wait at least one year.  The theory behind the wait period was to encourage partners to reconcile and hopefully avoid divorce.  Fortunately the law has caught up with reality and in many cases, when you know you know.

A divorce by mutual consent allows parties to file for divorce so long as there are no minor children and there is an agreement as to all property issues.  Determining whether you have minor children is easy but settling property can sometimes be difficult depending on the duration of the marriage and the property accrued.  You and your spouse want to discuss and settle issues related to any joint bank accounts, cars, real property, debt, retirement, and alimony before filing for divorce.  Hiring an attorney to draft the settlement agreement to ensure it contains all necessary contract language and covers all potential property disputes is important to make sure you truly have settled all property issues.  Additionally, sometimes parties think they’re on the same page only to learn that they’re not.  Discussing these issues initially allows for a smooth settlement and a true divorce by mutual consent.

Once you have your agreement signed you can then file for the divorce.  Your spouse can come with you and immediately file their answer which avoids waiting for the summons and having to formally serve the Defendant.  When filing for the divorce you must include a copy of your agreement so the Court is satisfied that there are no unresolved property issues.  After you’ve filed, the Court will set an uncontested hearing for about ten (10) minutes.  Some counties take longer than others but a good estimation of the time it would take to get divorced is three (3) months.

The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee services to draft and finalize your  agreement and handle your uncontested divorces.  Call us today!