Going through a divorce can be a difficult and complex experience. On top of the emotional challenges, you may also be facing various legal questions when dissolving your marriage.
A divorce separates two people’s formerly joined lives, which can lead to issues around property ownership and support. Additionally, many divorces must deal with questions concerning child custody, support, and visitation. The outcome of these matters can have a huge impact on your life moving forward.
Let a Rockville divorce lawyer provide stability and support during these difficult times. At our firm, an experienced family attorney can explain the state laws that govern your case, help you identify realistic goals, and fight to make those goals a reality.
When Can a Person File for a Divorce?
Just like any other legal case, you must have grounds for divorce to file. There are also various legal requirements. If the grounds for divorce occurred in the State of Maryland, then the parties do not have to reside in Maryland. However, if the grounds for divorce did not occur in Maryland, then one party must reside in the state for at least six months prior to filing the complaint, as per Md. Code Family Law, §7-101.
Grounds for At-Fault Divorce
A complaint must also cite the grounds for why the moving party is asking for the divorce. State law separates divorces into at-fault and no-fault varieties.
Under Md. Code, Family Law, §7-103, reasons for an at-fault divorce include:
- Excessively vicious conduct
- A spouse being convicted of a crime with a lengthy jail sentence
However, many divorces are no-fault.
Requirements for a Mutual Consent Divorce
For one year separation, the two people must live separately for at least 12 months prior to filing the complaint. For a mutual consent divorce, the parties must have a signed marital separation agreement or other document that addresses all matters pertaining to the parties’ marriage, including marital property, children, and support. A knowledgeable attorney can help potential litigants to understand whether they can ask a Rockville court to grant a divorce.
Important Matters in a Marriage Dissolution
Divorces have a reputation for being lengthy and emotional legal battles. Indeed, many cases can quickly devolve into messy conflicts. A court must make a final determination concerning every part of the two peoples’ lives. This can include the division of property, assets, and debt. Additionally, a court may make a ruling concerning the matters of alimony and child support.
However, the most pressing matter in many divorce cases is child custody. A court will rule on matters concerning physical custody, legal custody, i.e. the right to make major decisions concerning that child’s future, and how much child support a parent must pay. Under Md. Code, Family Law, §5-203, the court can award custody to either parent, or create a joint custody arrangement to give rights to both parents. An experienced Rockville attorney can further explain the process of determining custody during a divorce.
The Divorce Process in Rockville
A divorce begins with the filing of a complaint for divorce in the local courthouse. A plaintiff must also serve the other spouse with this complaint, and other appropriate documents.
The court will then schedule a case for an initial hearing where the magistrate (family law judge) will identify major issues of contention in the case. The court will schedule additional pre-trial hearings to try and settle these matters and may require parties to participate in mediation sessions. If these sessions fail, the court will hold a full trial to rule on any outstanding matters.
A marriage dissolution lawyer in the area can help divorcing parties understand the legal process and protect their rights every step of the way.
Defining Marital and Nonmarital Property
Under Maryland Family Code §8-201, marital property includes assets that a couple acquires during their marriage. Some parties mistakenly believe that if an asset is titled in their sole name, like a retirement account, it is not marital property subject to division in a divorce. However, with certain exceptions, marital property includes any asset acquired during the marriage regardless of titling.
Marital property does not include property acquired by either spouse before marriage or as an inheritance or gift from a third party. Spouses can also exclude property from becoming marital property in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
In some cases, an asset may be a combination of marital and nonmarital property. For example, suppose one spouse owns a business prior to marriage, but the other spouse works in that business and helps it grow after getting married. The business may become partly marital property. A seasoned divorce attorney in Rockville can help determine what property is marital and what remains a spouse’s sole asset if the marriage is dissolved.
Factors to Consider When Dividing Property in a Rockville Divorce
When determining asset division in a divorce, judges must follow the state’s equitable distribution laws and divide the spouses’ property fairly. “Fairly” does not necessarily mean equally. To make this determination, a court may consider several factors, including but not limited to:
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s age, health, and financial circumstances
- Each spouse’s monetary and nonmonetary contributions to the family
- How and when the assets were acquired
- Whether a spouse is awarded alimony
- Either spouse’s conduct that led to the marriage dissolution
- Any other factors the court deems relevant to an equitable property distribution
It is up to a court to determine how much weight to give each factor when deciding property division. Dividing assets fairly can be challenging, but it is not impossible. A skilled local divorce attorney can explain the state’s property division laws and guide a spouse through the legal process.
Are Debts Also Divided Between the Spouses?
Under state law, a judge cannot divide debts between the spouses and order each to pay a certain amount. If a couple has incurred joint debt, they both remain responsible for repaying it even after a final divorce. The parties can agree on allocating debts between themselves, but their agreement does not prevent a lender from pursuing collections against both parties if the debt remains unpaid.
A judge can consider each party’s individual debt as well as their joint debt in the property division process. For example, if one spouse incurred significant debt in their own name by making repairs to the couple’s marital home, a court could award that spouse a more substantial share of the marital home proceeds when sold to offset that debt. If debt allocation is an issue in a spouse’s divorce, they are well-advised to seek advice from a capable lawyer in Rockville.
What if a Spouse Intentionally Wastes Marital Assets?
Because of the often-contentious nature of divorce, a spouse may deliberately try to prevent the other spouse from receiving their share of the marital assets. Referred to as ‘dissipation’ of marital property, these unfair practices can create challenges in the property division process.
For instance, one spouse may withdraw funds from a joint bank account and hide them in an undisclosed location. Alternatively, a spouse may go on a lavish spending spree solely to deprive the other spouse of marital funds. Transferring property like a vehicle or a rare coin collection to a third party may also constitute the dissipation of marital assets.
A spouse in any of these situations may fear that the asset or funds are lost, but that is not necessarily the case. A judge may penalize the party who wasted the assets by ordering them to pay back what they improperly hid or spent. They may even be ordered to pay the other party’s legal fees. The hardworking divorce attorneys at our firm are familiar with the laws regarding the dissipation of property and can work to ensure that all a couple’s marital assets are accounted for in the property division.
Who Lives in the Family Home When Spouses Divorce?
Under Maryland Family Law Code §8-201, a marital home, also referred to as a family home, is defined as the primary residence of the parties in a divorce action. A residence must meet the following criteria to qualify as a family home:
- Used as the parties’ principal residence when they resided together
- Owned or leased by one or both spouses at the time the divorce is initiated
- Used, or will be used, as the principal residence of one or both parties and their child or children
- Was not acquired by a party before marriage or by inheritance or a gift from a third party
- Has not been excluded as a family home by the parties’ agreement
For many married couples, their home is one of their most significant assets, and who gets to live in it during or after a divorce can be a point of contention. Under state law, a judge may grant a spouse the exclusive right to reside in the home for up to three years after the final divorce, known as “use and possession.”
Requirements for Use and Possession in a Divorce
To qualify for use and possession, a spouse must be the custodial parent of at least one of the couple’s children. A judge may consider various factors when determining whether to permit one spouse to remain in the home, such as whether use and possession will result in financial hardship for the other party. Additionally, it must be in the children’s best interests to continue to live in the home after their parent’s divorce.
Use and possession terminates at the end of the period assigned by a judge, when the couple’s youngest child turns age 18, or if the spouse living in the home remarries. A spouse seeking a use and possession order should discuss their case with a divorce attorney in Rockville who is well-versed in family law.
How Judges Determine Spousal Support in Rockville
Unlike child support, which follows a strict mathematical formula, a court has broad authority when deciding whether to grant alimony to a divorcing spouse. A judge must balance the lesser-earning spouse’s need for financial support against the higher-earning spouse’s ability to pay it. This can be challenging, particularly if a spouse previously had a well-paying job but left it to care for the couple’s children.
As part of the overall consideration of a spouse’s alimony claim, a judge may look at certain factors to help them make the assessment. These factors may include:
- The ability of the spouse requesting alimony to support themselves
- The time needed for the party seeking maintenance to gain sufficient education or training to enable them to find employment
- The spouses’ standard of living during their marriage
- The length of the marriage
- Each party’s contribution to the family’s well-being
- The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to meet their needs while paying support to the other party
- Each party’s right to receive retirement benefits
Although a judge is not required to use a formal checklist, they must demonstrate that they have considered all necessary factors in their determination of spousal support. A divorce lawyer who understands the alimony factors can help determine whether a spouse may be entitled to payments.
Rehabilitative Versus Indefinite Alimony
Spousal support aims to help the financially dependent spouse reenter the workforce and become self-supporting. Accordingly, judges often award rehabilitative alimony for a specific period of time rather than indefinitely. In doing so, the court may consider how long it will take the dependent spouse to gain sufficient education and training to find suitable employment and become self-supporting.
In some cases, no matter how much education or job training a spouse achieves, they may never be able to support themselves financially. For instance, a spouse who is elderly or disabled may not be able to hold a job. In that event, a judge could award indefinite alimony designed to help the spouse for as long as they need support.
Even in indefinite alimony cases, circumstances could change, and a modification or termination of the spousal support may be necessary. For instance, the payor spouse could lose their job or retire, rendering them unable to continue to reasonably pay the alimony. A seasoned Rockville divorce attorney can help a spouse understand how alimony is determined and how to financially prepare themselves for life after the divorce.
Can Marital Misconduct Impact Spousal Support and Property Division?
One of the many factors a judge could consider in a divorce action is the circumstances that led to the couple’s estrangement. A primary example of marital misconduct is adultery. If one spouse’s infidelity substantially contributed to the marriage breakup, a judge could award the other spouse a larger share of the couple’s assets.
This factor may also be applied to the determination of spousal support. If one spouse abused the other or treated them poorly throughout the marriage, a judge may consider that behavior when determining spousal support.
Even though marital misconduct can be considered in property division and spousal support awards, a spouse who has been cheated on is not likely to win everything. It is essential to remember that marital misconduct is only one of the numerous relevant factors, and a judge has the authority to deny alimony regardless of marital fault if the other factors dictate that result. Any spouse pursuing or defending an alimony claim will benefit from the counsel of an experienced divorce lawyer in Rockville.
Consider the Tax Consequences of a Divorce
As parties negotiate how to provide for their children’s care and divide their assets in a divorce, it is essential to consider specific tax issues. Depending on each party’s tax bracket and other financial circumstances, it may be beneficial for the parties to negotiate a different arrangement with help from a trusted divorce attorney.
For example, divorcing spouses could negotiate who will claim their children as dependents for income tax purposes. Additionally, only one parent may claim ‘head of household’ tax filing status. If both parents claim head of household, it may trigger an IRS audit of their tax returns.
Another significant consideration is whether spousal support will be taxable to the spouse who receives it or the one who pays it. Under current Maryland law, the payor spouse may not deduct spousal support payments from their income taxes and the payee spouse may not include spousal support payments in their income for tax purposes.
Let a Rockville Divorce Attorney Help Preserve Your Future
Any divorce, even one where the two parties agree on most separation terms, is a monumental legal issue. The court must approve of the parties’ agreement and find that it is fair and voluntary. Common points of contention can include the distribution of marital property, payment of alimony, payment of child support, and care and custody of children.
A Rockville divorce lawyer fights for your interest in all these matters. Legal counsel can help explain the legal process, file all necessary paperwork, and attend all court hearings and mediation sessions to protect your rights. An attorney can also work to craft any settlement agreements that may make a divorce a less contentious experience. Contact our firm today to see how we can help you.