The outcome of a family law case will have an immense impact on your future and the future of your children. These matters can include but are not limited to divorces, separation, child support issues, the creation of alimony payments, and marital property division. In short, any matter that affects the family unit must go through a Rockville family court.
Unfortunately, family courts can be intimidating places, and unrepresented litigants can find themselves confused by arcane rules and strict documentary requirements. A simple mistake could lead to an unfavorable outcome that may not be changed for many years, if ever.
A skilled Rockville family lawyer will be able to guide you through the process and work toward achieving your goals in family court. A dedicated attorney could take steps to initiate a case, respond to another party’s complaints or motions, and present your case in court with clarity and force.
The Purpose of Family Courts
Many familial bonds are not just spiritual. The family unit is also a legal connection. Any permanent severing of that connection must run through a family court. As a result, many of the cases handled in family courts are divorces.
A divorce contains many of the other auxiliary matters that a court may decide. For example, a divorce case can involve matters of spousal support under Maryland Code, Family Law §11-101. It must also make arrangements for child custody under Md. Code, Fam L §5-203(d)(1), and child support under Md. Code, Fam L §12-202.
A parent can petition a court at any time to institute an order for child support if one does not already exist. Similarly, a material change in circumstances can prompt a person to motion the court to modify an existing custody or child support order. A seasoned Rockville family law attorney could help individuals to pursue the legal remedies necessary to meet their goals.
Dissolution of a Marriage
Divorce cases are often central to the work of a family law attorney. Most of the issues involved in family law are tied in with a divorce case in one way or another. Ultimately, a successful dissolution of a marriage is best handled by a Rockville family attorney.
The final divorce decree can reshape the lives of both the spouses and their children. This court order will determine everything from the division of assets to the custody of the children. Additionally, a final divorce decree can also formalize the return to a spouse’s unmarried name. While a name change often occurs as part of the divorce process, a spouse has 18 months from the entry of the order to petition for a change.
How Divorce Differs From Separation
Marriage is complicated. For a variety of reasons, an immediate divorce might not be the ideal solution for two people considering an end to their relationship. Couples that have not yet divorced but intend to live apart could benefit from the use of a separation agreement. Understanding the difference between these two processes is important for anyone facing the breakup of a relationship.
Separation agreements deal with many of the same issues that are central to divorce. Questions about access to marital property and even the physical custody of children can be governed by separation agreements.
The reasons for a couple to separate without immediately divorcing vary. Some families prefer to stay married in hopes of reconciling. Others due so for religious reasons. Tax implications are also a reason some couples remain married despite no longer living together. In these cases, a strong separation agreement could be vital.
In some situations, a separation agreement could make for a smooth transition into a divorce. When couples hash out the bulk of property and custody issues during the separation process, it could streamline a divorce when the time comes. In fact, there is nothing that prevents a couple from entering into a separation agreement during a divorce case. When this is done, it could be possible to quickly finalize a divorce proceeding.
How Does the State Divide Property?
No matter the type of separation or divorce, courts in Rockville divide assets depending on the type of the property. Under state law, all assets fall into one of two categories: marital or non-marital property.
Marital property is the name of assets the couple acquires together during the course of their marriage or anything that either party acquires in his/her own name during the marriage. This could be anything from earned income to pensions to motor vehicles.
Non-marital property is any asset a spouse owned before they came into the marriage. Upon the dissolution of the marriage, the parties will retain the non-marital property each individual previously owned, under certain circumstances. There are some types of property that are acquired during the course of the marriage that are considered non-marital property. For example, certain inheritances are not treated by the courts as marital property, even when the inheritance is distributed during the course of the marriage.
Questions about property division are often one of the most hotly-contested matters in a difficult divorce. Ensuring that property is appropriately categorized is the first way a family law attorney can ensure a spouse is treated fairly in their divorce.
How Courts Equitably Distribute Property
The process of distributing marital assets starts with determining what type each asset is, but that is only part of the process. Once assets are determined by the court to be marital or non-marital property, it is up to the court to value the property and determine an equitable way to divide the marital assets between the parties.
There are a number of factors the courts will take into account when working out the equitable distribution of property. These factors could include more than just the finances of the two parties. The courts will also consider the ages of both parties and the length of the marriage.
Child Custody Agreements
Few issues are more challenging in a family law setting than questions of child custody. These disputes are deeply personal and can result in relentless litigation. Taking on these challenges without the guidance of an experienced Rockville family law attorney can put a parent’s rights at risk.
When the court determines the matter of child custody, their overriding goal is the best interests of the child. All other considerations are secondary to the children’s safety and wellbeing.
There are two types of custody that the court must determine: legal and physical. Legal custody represents the right to make decisions about a child’s life. This includes choices about their education, health, religion, or upbringing in general.
Physical custody will determine where a child lives. A parent with sole physical custody will have the children live with them primarily. In some cases, the court will award parents joint physical custody, meaning the children could shuffle back and forth between the homes of both parents.
Parents who are not awarded shared physical custody could still obtain visitation rights. Additionally, these parents might also retain some legal custody as well. The judge will ultimately determine what is in the best interests of the children.
It is often a challenge for divorced or separated parents to come to an agreement on carrying the financial cost of raising their children. The courts will weigh in on the matter by ordering child support. Child support is a monetary contribution from one parent to another that is related to the cost of raising the children.
The financial obligation from each parent will depend on the amount of gross income they have. It will also depend on the physical custody of the child. For example, a parent without physical custody will not require child support for lodging or food from the parent that has physical custody.
Before the court can make an award of child support, they must first verify the income of each parent. This involves the careful review of certain documentation. When a parent is an employee of a company owned by someone else, they can verify their earnings through the use of pay stubs or similar documentation.
The process of verifying income can be more complex for anyone that is self-employed. A self-employed parent must instead provide the previous three years of income tax returns. Additional tax records may be necessary in cases where a parent has experienced a steep increase or decrease in income in the previous three years.
Many married couples combine their assets and income upon marriage. In some cases, there is a steep disparity between the income of one parent versus another. In other cases, one parent might agree to forego employment and instead raise children.
Under certain conditions, the court may determine that equity demands one spouse financially support the other following the dissolution of the marriage. This is especially common when one spouse makes sacrifices so that the other can further their career.
Spousal support is also commonly known as alimony. There are two types of spousal support to be aware of. The first is known as pendente lite, or temporary rehabilitative, alimony. The second is known as permanent alimony.
Pendente lite support is a temporary form of financial support that is typically awarded during the course of a divorce or separation. It is not a final determination of a financial obligation. Instead, it is intended to temporarily provide for a spouse’s financial needs while the parties wait for their court date.
Indefinite Spousal Support
Indefinite spousal support will replace pendente lite support when the court determines that alimony is necessary under an indefinite basis following the divorce. For a party to alter or end the requirement of spousal support, they must pursue a motion to modify the original order.
The grounds for altering or ending support vary. As financial circumstances change, these arrangements may require a review from the court. Always seek the guidance of a committed family lawyer in Rockville before pursuing a modification of a spousal support obligation.
Pre-Nuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
The vast majority of issues surrounding family law stem directly from a divorce. However, there are some important legal decisions that are made at the beginning of the marriage, not the end. These are known as prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.
These agreements are contracts. They exist to protect the legal rights of both parties to a marriage. Both prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can set out an agreement on the potential division of assets should the couple ultimately divorce.
There are a number of reasons why these agreements are used. They are common in cases where one spouse has substantially more assets than the other. They are also useful in cases where a spouse enters the marriage owning a business that would not survive dissolution.
Prenuptial agreements are the more common of the two. They occur before the couple is every married. While less common, postnuptial agreements are still routine in Rockville. They occur after the marriage is completed. Postnuptial agreements often occur when the financial circumstances of a marriage changes. For example, if one spouse runs up tremendous debt during the course of the marriage, the other spouse might seek a postnuptial agreement absolving them of that debt entirely.
Grounds for an Agreement
Ultimately, the courts will determine if prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are valid. These contracts must be in writing, and both parties must agree to them. Like any other contract, there must be a consideration on both sides of the agreement for them to be binding.
There are a number of grounds that could result in a court refusing to honor these agreements. For example, prenuptial agreements are only valid if both parties are transparent about their financial situation. If one spouse hides assets from the other, they are preventing the second spouse from making an informed decision. Hiding assets is one factor that may invalidate a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Another factor that may invalidate these agreements is undue influence. One tactic could involve surprising a prospective spouse with a proposed agreement in the days or hours leading up to the wedding. Any effort to force a person against their will to waive their right to legal counsel is also an example of undue influence.
Civil Protection Orders
In some cases, the breakdown of a marriage can result in allegations of harassment or violence. While criminal charges are always an option for the police, the victim of these offenses can also seek a civil protection order against their current or former spouse or the parent of their child.
An order of protection could provide a legal barrier between the abuser and the victim. While courts have the power to enter a temporary order, an accuser must prove that they require protection pursuant to one of the statutory basis by a preponderous of the evidence.
A hearing is required before the court can enter a final protection order. At that hearing, the spouse accused of abuse is entitled to defend themselves. If the court sides with that spouse, they will dismiss any temporary restraining orders. If they side with the accuser, they will likely issue a final civil order of protection.
These protection orders typically restrain the accused from contacting the complaining witness—either directly or indirectly. These orders could also set out other requirements, including a demand that the accused move out of a residence shared with their victim.
Final orders last for up to twelve months. However, upon the victim’s request, the courts have the power to extend these orders for a longer period of time. Given what is at stake, it is vital to speak with a Rockville family attorney before pursuing a civil order of protection.
Reach Out to a Rockville Family Attorney Today
Family Courts are notoriously complex. There are certain parts of many existing cases that may limit or change a person’s ability to move for a modification. Similarly, a person’s goals in a divorce or child custody case may require intense attention to detail. A single mistake could affect a person’s rights and privileges for years to come.
Working with a legal professional in Rockville could help to promote your goals in court and in any settlement talks. They can help to explain the laws in the state and how they apply to a case. A steadfast Rockville family lawyer could help to represent your interests in all these matters. They work with you to identify your goals, to develop a strategy, and to fight to make those goals a reality. Many cases have time limits to respond, and that time may be fast approaching. Contact legal counsel today to get started on your case.