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What Is Non-Marital Property and Why Should I Care?

Non-marital property consists of (a) the property you owned prior to your marriage; (b) the property you acquired during your marriage by inheritance or gift from third parties (not your spouse); and (c) any property directly traceable to any of the above sources. See Md. Code Ann. Family Law § 8-201(e)(3). In a divorce action, each party gets to keep their non-marital property, provided they are able to prove that such property was directly acquired via one of the three above-listed sources.  This is where the proverbial plot thickens, particularly in long-term marriages. 

How many people keep records verifying their acquisition of jewelry or a baseball card collection that they purchased 20 or more years ago?  How many people keep evidence confirming their receipt of funds from a deceased relative’s estate or life insurance policy?  How many people maintain statements dating back to the date of marriage for their existing 401(k) plans?  In my experience, most do not.  And most banks only keep records dating back seven years, further complicating the proof recovery problem. 

Whether and When to Involve an Attorney in Mediation

Many couples choose mediation to resolve their family matters.  Mediation gives you control over who facilitates the settlement discussion, over how to structure and pace the process, and – most importantly – over the outcome.  Mediation can be efficient and cost-effective.  Mediation is not, however, the same as representation by an attorney.  The mediator is a neutral, whose role is to facilitate communication between the participants, identify issues, and explore settlement options.  The goal is settlement, not the best deal for you or protecting your best interests.  This raises the question of…whether and when to involve an attorney in the mediation process?

In court-ordered mediation, your attorney may be required to participate from start to finish.  So, the decision may be made for you. 

In private, voluntary mediation, there are many options and no one-fits-all answer. 

Request for Production of Documents

Jordan Rossi is a Paralegal at DHHW.  She has worked with Dragga, Hannon, Hessler & Wills since 2012.

During the course of your case, you will engage in discovery, which is exactly what it sounds like, the discovering and disclosing of information about the opposing party.  This includes the answering of questions and exchanging of information by way of a document production. 

The exchanging of documents starts when receiving a written Request for Production of Documents.  Each party is allowed to request documents from the other, and Maryland Rules have not imposed a limit on how many requests may be asked of a party, within reason.  Providing the documents to the opposing side is known as the Response to Request for Production of Documents, and contains a written portion as well as the documents themselves.  You have 30 days from service of the Request for Production of Documents to gather what is requested so it can be provided to the opposing side. 

Starting the Journey – Hiring an Attorney – What to consider?

Hiring an attorney means putting your trust in someone to advocate for you, your family, and your future on the unfamiliar path of divorce and custody.  It is a stressful journey, arising from a difficult and challenging family situation.  When you may feel like your future and your family are at risk.  Finding the right attorney is the first step on that journey.

There are lots of ways to find an attorney – asking those you know who have been through this, asking a trusted professional (accountant, therapist, doctor, etc.), online searches, advertisements, and more.  Followed by information gathering – usually by word of mouth and online – to narrow the options.  Then, contacting the offices of a select few to decide if you will make an appointment, probably depending on cost, availability, and your initial impressions from that contact.  Culminating with the initial consultation.  All with the goal of deciding whether to place your trust in this attorney with what’s most important – you, your family, and your future.

2017 Maryland Pet Visitation Bill Crated

In Maryland divorce cases, pets acquired during the marriage are considered personal property.  This means that current law entitles the court to determine ownership and nothing more.  Not matters more suited to a member of the family, such as custody, visitation, financial support, or extraordinary expenses.  To many, a pet is a beloved, constant companion and family member.  The law has not kept up with the reality of the relationships between pets and their caregivers.

There are signs of progress.  In 2011, the domestic violence law changed, empowering the court to award “temporary possession of any pet” in temporary and final protective orders.  Reference to “possession”, instead of “custody”, is consistent with treatment of pets as property (as compared with “custody” used in reference to children).  While a step in the right direction, this relief is limited to domestic violence cases and unavailable (for now) in divorce.

Lindsay Parvis Published in Maryland Family Law Advocate

The April 2017 edition of the Maryland Family Law Advocate, a publication of the MSBA Family & Juvenile Law Section, features an article authored by Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esquire, and updated by Lindsay Parvis.  The article, Montgomery County: Practice and Procedure, provides an overview of the Montgomery County Circuit Court Family law procedures.  The article is reprinted here with permission of the FJLS.

What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO, pronounced “qua-dro”) is an order entered by a court to direct the division of the marital property portion of a retirement interest in a divorce.  A QDRO may also be used to collect payment of child support and/or alimony.  This article focuses on division of retirement in divorce.

Retirement plans, profit sharing, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), pensions, 401Ks, deferred compensation plans, and Keogh plans are just several examples of an exhaustive list of retirement assets that the court may consider marital property subject to division. If the plan is defined as a “tax qualified” plan by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), then the transfer of retirement assets is done through a QDRO.

A QDRO allows the spouse who is not a retirement plan participant to be recognized as an “alternate payee” and to collect all or part of the retirement benefits which belong to the plan participant. The alternate payee may be allowed to receive current or future benefits depending on the plan and/or agreement reached by the spouses.

Fewer Firearms for Those Convicted of Domestic Violence Crimes

While not overtly a domestic violence bill, HB294 revises Public Safety Article §5-101(b-1)(2)(i) so a person, who receives a probation before judgment for second degree assault that is a “domestically related crime” (as defined in Criminal Procedure Article §6-233), is disqualified from owning a firearm.  Domestically related crimes generally are crimes against a person who would be eligible for a domestic violence protective order or who had a sexual relationship with the perpetrator within 12 months of the crime.  Under existing domestic violence law (which are civil matters), the respondent/alleged abuser must relinquish any firearms while the protective order is in place.  HB294 applies to criminal cases.  Effective October 1, 2017, persons convicted of crimes arising from domestic violence will be prevented, under certain circumstances, from owning firearms.

This bill was developed as part of the Governor’s Family Violence Council.

For more information on HB294, view the bill HERE and video of the bill hearing HERE.

Lindsay Parvis is a member of the Legislative Committee of the Family & Juvenile Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association, seeking to improve family law for families, attorneys, and the courts.

Domestic Violence Law Gets Minor - But Needed - Update

Currently, Maryland law (Family Law Article §7-301.1) makes an Interim, Temporary, or Final Protective Order granted in a domestic violence proceeding inadmissible evidence in other family law matters, such as divorce, custody, and custody modification cases. 

Additionally, §7-103.1 prevents a court from considering compliance with a protective order as grounds for a limited or absolute divorce.  This means (in theory, though not in practice as far as my experience goes) that a person who stays away from and ceases cohabitation with a spouse pursuant to a year-long protective order could stop the court from considering this a 12-month separation or 12-month desertion. 

Effective October 1, 2017, §7-103.1 will no longer be the law.  The sponsor’s and proponents’ reasoning behind HB293 is that §7-103.1 has become obsolete and may streamline or even save victims of domestic violence from relitigating the abuse.

License Suspension For Non-Payment of Child Support Refined by 2017 Maryland General Assembly

Effective October 1, 2017, changes go into effect regarding the Office of Child Support Enforcement's right to suspend different types of licenses of payors who fall behind on child support.  Specifically, these changes apply to driver’s licenses as well as business, occupation, and professional licenses. 

On driver’s licenses: 

Drivers can lose their driver's licenses for failure to pay child support.  This can apply when someone fails to pay any child support or when someone does not pay the full amount of child support.  The new law distinguishes between noncommercial and commercial driver’s licenses; current law does not.  Currently, the law allows the office of child support enforcement to notify the Motor Vehicle Administration/MVA of drivers who fall behind on their child support by 60 days' worth of payments.  This new law will set the timing at noncommercial drivers who accumulate 60 days or more of arrears and commercial drivers who accumulate 120 days or more of back child support.

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