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Maryland Divorce Blog

Maryland ranks among top 10 states for child support enforcement

It is not easy for unmarried parents or divorcing parents to secure appropriate child support orders. Under Maryland law, a number of child support guidelines are used to determine a parent's obligations, but it can be a difficult process to come up with a suitable arrangement or court order. Once an order is put into place, there are often problems with child support enforcement.

In 2011, the Maryland Department of Human Resources was faulted for its failure to collect child support for children in the state. At that time, an audit revealed that the agency was failing to collect child support from parents who were refusing to comply with orders. Since the audit became public, the agency has made strides in its child support collections efforts.

When unmarried couples break up, property division issues follow

More and more couples are living together before marriage in Maryland. In fact, many couples decide to live together indefinitely with no plans to ever marry. As we have mentioned on several occasions in this blog, one glitch with this plan is simply that unmarried couples lack a number of legal protections should they choose to break up. When married couples divorce, the law guides the division of shared property; when unmarried couples split up, it can be extremely difficult to divide property in a manner that is fair and equitable. 

Unmarried couples often share significant pieces of valuable property, such as cars, furnishings and houses. These items may or may not be in the names of both parties, and the party that does hold a title may not necessarily be the one who has made the majority of payments on the property.

How are appreciated assets divided in a Maryland divorce?

When a couple divorces in Montgomery County, their marital property must be divided equitably under Maryland law. The term "marital property" generally applies only to assets that were acquired during the marriage. Property that an individual owned prior to marriage is typically considered separate property, and as such it is to remain the personal property of that individual after divorce--it is not subject division. Simple enough?

Determining which assets are part of the marital estate and which assets are separate property is actually far more complicated than it sounds. For example, in some cases what began as separate property becomes marital property. Such might be the case if one person owned a house prior to marriage, and during the marriage the property was changed to joint title. In other cases, a single person might own shares of stock, which go on to appreciate in value significantly during marriage. 

What is the truth about the divorce rate?

Maryland residents hear things like "half of all marriages end in divorce" all of the time. During the recession, we read reports about the rate of divorce declining, and since then reports have flown about divorce rate increasing. In any event, the old adage about 50 percent of marriages leading straight to divorce always seems to stick around. So, what is the truth? Is the divorce rate going up or down? 

For decades, the popular opinion has been that one in every two married couples will divorce. But, population researchers have actually long maintained that the divorce rate has been falling since at least the 1970s. However, recent research released by the University of Minnesota refutes those widely accepted findings. The recent research suggests that the divorce rate has been on a steady climb for 30 years.

Maryland parents may take co-parenting classes during divorce

Divorce can be hard on children and there is no getting around that fact. In many cases, however, parents are successful in minimizing their children's exposure to trauma during the divorce process. Of course, in other cases children suffer when they end up becoming pawns in divorce-related disputes. Often, parents are stressed out by the divorce themselves and they simply need support and information about how to meet their children's complicated needs during this time.

Almost half of the states in the country now require divorcing parents to attend classes on this very topic. Some states require these for all parents, while others mandate the education only for parents of minor children. Two states require parents to take such classes only if they have not been able to come up with their own child custody or parenting time agreements. Here in Maryland, these parenting classes are not mandated in all cases, but courts have the discretion to compel parents to take courses.

Divorcing? Get to know your family's finances

In many Maryland households, one spouse handles the family's finances. A number of married couples simply find it easier to keep track of bills and investments if the responsibility is delegated to one spouse. Other couples might find it preferable to keep their finances relatively separate, with each spouse taking care of his or her own bills and assets. Both of these options, however, can lead to problems in the event of divorce. In the first scenario, there is one spouse who is not aware of the ins and outs of the couple's financial portfolio. In the second scenario, spouses have little visibility into the other's finances.

In order to achieve a fair and reasonable division of property and assets during divorce, it is important to have an accurate picture of the household's income, assets, expenses and liabilities.

Unexercised stock options may complicate division of property

When Maryland couples start the divorce process, they are often unaware of all that this will entail. One major part of divorce is dividing all marital property and assets, and people often think that this is limited to the home, shared bank accounts, and objects such as furniture and art. However, many couples also must deal with complicated financial assets such as 401(k)s, stock options and other investments.

Employee stock options are a particularly complicated asset to address during divorce. Stock options are granted by some employers to their employees, allowing them to buy company shares at a set rate at a future point in time. The value of stock options is difficult to discern before the options are actually exercised, and this can make them tough to handle during divorce.

Most ex-husbands neglect their post-divorce financial obligations

Arriving at a divorce settlement is no easy task for many divorcing Maryland couples. Coming to terms on child support, child custody, spousal support, and the division of marital assets such as retirement savings and property can be a very difficult and tedious process. Unfortunately, many individuals find that the real battle begins once a divorce settlement is in place. Getting an ex-spouse to abide by a settlement agreement can be a real challenge in many cases.

U.S. Census data suggests that that majority of divorced men do not follow the financial obligations stipulated in their divorce settlements. What can Maryland residents do to enforce the terms of their divorces?

Is shared parenting the new normal after divorce in Maryland?

In the fall we wrote that Maryland may soon consider child custody law reforms. The state put together a commission to study whether shared parenting, or joint custody, is the ideal custody arrangement, among other issues. Under current Maryland law, it is possible for parents to obtain joint custody orders, but the courts do not necessarily prefer this option in the majority of cases.

Many states are now trending toward shared parenting as the new normal custody arrangement. A number of states are studying this issue to determine whether equal time with both parents is the best for children, absent situations that involve abuse or addictions.

Text messages may be used against you in divorce court

Maryland couples who are heading into divorce need to be careful about texting. In recent years, the number of family law cases involving evidence culled from smartphones has spiked. This includes emails, Facebook posts and text messages. These pieces of digital communication can be used to show evidence of affairs, squandering marital assets, and even parenting skills.

In a recent divorce case, U.S. Cellular was subpoenaed to turn over 50,000 text messages between a man's wife and another man. U.S. Cellular provided the texts, but the company has now been criticized by a state supreme court justice for violating the federal Stored Communications Act.

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