#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.

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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!

#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.

#FamilyFriday – Modifications

Often, we meet with clients that don’t know they can request a change to their previous custody or support order. There are many changes that may occur that make it necessary for you to modify your Court order.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC are here to talk with you about modifications.  Often, we meet with clients that don’t know they can request a change to their previous custody or support order.  For example, a child support order from 10 years ago is likely very different than a child support order today.  What if one parent has a new job?  What if the child has new needs?  What if one parent lost their job?  There are many changes that may occur that make it necessary for you to modify your Court order.

The most important element of a modification is that there must be a material change in circumstance.  A parent getting a new job but maintaining a similar salary or moving to another home in the same neighborhood are generally not considered a material change in circumstance.  However, in many cases situations do arise which require one parent to seek a modification.  Parents come to our office because one parent has received a significant raise, has moved far away, or has started a relationship with a questionable person.  When these material changes occur, the Court can then evaluate whether the original order is still in the best interests of your child.

The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC are compassionate and understanding of each family’s unique circumstances.  Call us at (443) 906-3566 to discuss your specific case and let the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC help you and your family!

Getting divorced?

If it’s time for you to begin the divorce process and end this chapter of your life, get organized and be prepared.

No one enters a marriage thinking or wishing for it to end.  But, it happens.  If you find this is happening to you and your marriage, know that you are not alone.  Marriages end, homes are split, and the once unified family is now divided.  Whether you’re the person seeking the divorce, the couple who mutually agree to divorce, or the person who has just been shockingly served, here’s what you need to know in Maryland.
Each family situation is different.  There tends to be two roads to divorce: by agreement between the parties or by a Judge.   If you have agreed how to handle any joint property and you don’t have minor children, you can get a divorce in Maryland without having to wait for any specific time period.  This type of divorce is by Mutual Consent.  If you do have minor children and/or maybe you haven’t settled all your property issues, you still don’t have to engage in war.  Maryland provides a voluntary divorce option for couples to divorce after a 12-month separation.
Unfortunately, divorce does tend to bring out the worst in couples.  In a situation where there has been a loss of trust, loss of a partnership, and, critically, a loss of communication, you need to be prepared to take action.  First, know what assets exist and the approximate value.  This may include property, retirement, personal property, vehicles, etc.  Second, know what type of debt exists and how much.   This can be in the form of a mortgage, outstanding credit card, a car loan, etc.  Be aware that, for purposes of the divorce in nearly all circumstances, any asset or debt is joint – regardless of how either is titled – if it was accrued during your marriage.  Lastly, and most importantly, prepare.  Prepare for your monthly expenses, prepare for your children, prepare for you.  Create a budget and adjust accordingly.  You cannot be certain how the Court is going to rule regarding alimony or a monetary award.  You may be confident that you will be able to remain in your home but what if that’s not the case?  Your spouse may have once promised to financially support you but now things have changed.
You may require the assistance of an experienced family law attorney and this preparation will only make for a more successful case.  Just remember, this too shall pass and you are not alone.  Call me today at (443) 906-3566!