Howard County, MD Divorce Lawyer

In Maryland, divorce can sometimes be a relatively simple process, especially if both sides agree to the terms of the divorce. However, when the divorcing spouses are unable to reach an agreement, things can quickly become messy and complicated. In either situation, it’s critical that you consult with an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible to make sure that your interests are represented fully. Decisions made in the early stages of the divorce process can greatly impact the ultimate outcome of the divorce process and have lasting consequences for years to come.

Fred L. Coover, Esquire is a Howard County, MD divorce lawyer who has been serving families in Columbia, Maryland and beyond for over 30 years. He understands the ins and outs of the law, and aggressively advocates for his clients to ensure that their interests are protected. Call Coover Law Firm, LLC today at 410-553-5042 to arrange a time to discuss your unique situation. To learn more about the purpose of the initial consultation, please click here.

 

Divorce and Legal Separation in Maryland

In a proceeding for separation or dissolution of marriage (A.K.A. divorce) in Maryland, the parties must come to an agreement on important issues such as the division of marital property, payment of spousal support or alimony, child custody and visitation, and payment of child support. If the divorcing couple cannot reach a resolution on all of these matters, either amongst themselves or with the assistance of a mediator, then they will be decided by the family court judge following a trial on the issues.

The court has the discretion and authority to rule on matters in the best interest of the children, or based on the most persuasive arguments made by the parties’ attorneys. Even the outcome of child support, which is normally based on statutory guidelines and formulas, may be decided based on the needs of the couple and their children as presented in court.

As such, it’s essential to have a knowledgeable and experienced Maryland divorce lawyer who knows the judges and Family law magistrates, and understands the nuances specific to your local court system. If you live in Columbia, Clarksville, Ellicott City, Fulton or other surrounding areas in Howard County, MD, click here for general information about the Circuit Court for Howard County. The Howard County Courthouse is located at 8360 Court Avenue, Ellicott City, Maryland 21043 (click here for directions).

 

Absolute vs. Limited Divorce in Maryland

In order to be granted a full divorce in Maryland, known as absolute divorce, you have to be able to prove that at least one legally accepted reason, or “ground” for divorce, exists. Examples of fault-based grounds for divorce in Maryland include adultery, desertion, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, and specific criminal conditions. If you are unable to prove the existence of one of the fault-based grounds for divorce, you can pursue a “no-fault” divorce.

In October 2015, Maryland updated its laws to include a new option for no-fault divorce – “Mutual Consent”. A divorce by mutual consent has no waiting period or separation requirement, encourages divorcing couples without minor children to work out the terms of their divorce by written agreement, and rewards them with a quick, and relatively inexpensive, absolute divorce.

For couples with minor children, or those who are otherwise not eligible for a divorce by mutual consent, an absolute divorce can be granted on the grounds of a 12-month physical separation. Currently, this is the most common grounds for divorce in Maryland.

While you are separated, you may still need the protection of the courts to issue court orders, or approve a legally enforceable agreement, on matters such as child custody, child support and property division. A limited divorce offers such legal boundaries. Parties can later obtain an absolute divorce once they meet all of the requirements, which will enable them to enter into a romantic relationship or marry another person.

Other reasons for a legal separation or limited divorce include situations in which the parties cannot divorce for religious reasons, or need to stay married for tax or financial reasons, but still wish to live apart. Also, with a limited divorce, the couple leaves open the option of reconciliation, at which time they can come back together and still be legally married.

If you are facing separation or divorce in Howard County, MD, the team at Coover Law Firm can provide the advice and representation you need to ensure that your rights, interests, and family are protected during this emotional time.

Maryland Divorce Law FAQs

The short answer: yes. The term “no-fault” references just one of many grounds for divorce in Maryland.

In Maryland, the large majority of divorces are granted on a no-fault basis. Up until recently, the only way to get a no-fault divorce was through a 12-month separation. However, Maryland introduced a new no-fault grounds for divorce in 2015: Mutual Consent.

A divorce by mutual consent has no “waiting period” or separation requirement. Instead, it encourages couples to work out the terms of their divorce by written agreement (with or without the assistance of an attorney or mediator) and rewards them with a prompt – and usually relatively inexpensive – absolute divorce.

At first, the option for a mutual consent divorce was limited to couples without minor children in common. However, as of October 1, 2018, married couples with minor children are also able to forgo the one-year separation period and obtain a divorce on mutual consent grounds in Maryland.

While separated, you are still legally married. No attorney is going to advise or encourage either spouse to engage in a romantic relationship while married because Maryland still has adultery as a grounds for divorce.

However, that being said, if you have resolved all of your issues with your spouse, have ratified a Marital Settlement Agreement, and all you are waiting for is that day in court to have your divorce finalized, there is probably no harm legally in dating under those circumstances. But, until those circumstances materialize, it's just prudent not to engage in a romantic relationship with somebody else.

It’s also important to mention that while probably 90% of divorcing spouses ratify a Marital Settlement Agreement outside of court, if you fall in that 10% that needs to wait for a Judge to decide everything for you, you should absolutely wait for a signed Judgement of Absolute Divorce before you start dating.

If you ask 12 reasonably experienced divorce lawyers that question, you're probably going to get 6 different answers. Ultimately, no Magistrate or Judge cares who files first. All they care about is the evidence presented at a hearing.Which party files first really only matters in one material way, and that is choosing in which court the divorce occurs. Sometimes there are what we call multiple venues for divorce because you can file a divorce action where somebody livesorwhere they work. Often, lawyers prefer to file in the county where their principal office is located, just out of comfort and convenience. So, the party that files first may have more influence over where the divorce occurs, but not the ultimate outcome.

Yes, a Judge can certainly deny a divorce. Historically, Maryland divorce law was designed to discourage married couples from getting divorced. The process was oftenunnecessarily difficult, lengthy, and - many times – very expensive. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable trend in Maryland toward making it easier to get divorced, as evidenced by the introduction of divorce by mutual consent in 2015, and waiving the requirement for third party witness corroboration in 2016.

As a general rule, Judges in Maryland are not looking for reasons not to grant a divorce.If the parties do what they are supposed to do, most Judges are pleased to grant judgments of divorce and provide swift resolution for families.

That being said, there are certainly exceptions. Perhaps one, or both, of the parties are not “playing by the rules.” Perhaps the Judge discovers that the couple has not been residents of Maryland for long enough. Perhaps there are questionable circumstances surrounding their Marital Settlement Agreement. At any rate, a Judge is more than just a gate to divorce. He or she is the proverbial “checks and balances.”So, if a Judge hears or sees something that he or she doesn't like, doesn't think is correct, or doesn't think is in the best interest of the children, he or she may very well deny a divorce. But, the bottom line, is it’s very unusual.

That's a great question. So, the answer is … it depends. Generally speaking, alimony is intended to rehabilitate the spouse that earns less. In other words, it's a transfer of money from the higher-earning spouse to the lesser-earning with the end goal of helping them to become self-supporting.

It is certainly possible that the spouse that earns less could have cheated on the spouse that earns more, and they could still be awarded alimony on that basis. The decision of whether to award alimony (and if so, how much) is up to a Judge. He or she will determine what they believe is fair and reasonable based on that couple’s unique facts and circumstances. We refer to this as equity.

The bottom line is that a cheating spouse should not expect to receive alimony, even if they earn less … but it’s possible. Unlikely, but possible.

To learn more about the factors that affect alimony, check out the blog – “How to Calculate Alimony in Maryland”.

I’m assuming the real question being asked here is: can I initiate the divorce if I'm the one that cheated? In that case, yes, you can initiate, and file for, divorce … but not on the grounds of adultery.

The reality is, marriages fall apart for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes, adultery is just a symptom and not necessarily the cause. Usually, another grounds for divorce is available, and often more financially viable, than proceeding by way of adultery. To learn more about the grounds for divorce in Maryland, click here.

Technically, yes. While there has been a legislative initiative to eliminate the crime of adultery in the state of Maryland, as of the time this is being written, it has not successfully passed. Historically, adultery has been a crime in the state of Maryland carrying a penalty of $10. However, saying it is extremely rare for someone to be prosecuted for the crime of adultery would be an understatement. In my 33 years practicing law, I have never encountered it happening.

Philosophically, alimony in Maryland is what we call rehabilitative. That means it's paid only until the economically dependent spouse (the spouse earning less) becomes independent and self-supporting. So, the duration of the payments depends very much upon each couple’s financial circumstances, including age, education, physical and mental health, number of years to retirement, etc. There is no formula that establishes how long alimony will last in Maryland.

Perhaps the underlying question here is whether alimony can last forever.The reality is, inMaryland, there are cases where alimony is awarded on a permanent basis because of the economically dependent spouse’s advanced age, lack of education or job training, etc. But, it’s certainly the exception and not the norm.

To learn more about the factors that affect alimony, check out the blog – “How to Calculate Alimony in Maryland”.

The short answer is no. Until recently, the only way to receive a no-fault divorce was with a 12-month separation. However, in 2015, the State of Maryland amended its divorce laws to include Mutual Consent as a grounds for a no-fault divorce. A divorce by mutual consent has no separation requirement and instead rewards couples who work out the terms of their divorce by written agreement (with or without the assistance of an attorney or mediator) and with a prompt – and typically relatively inexpensive – divorce.

Likewise, a divorce may also be granted in Maryland on the fault-based grounds of:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Cruelty
  • Excessively vicious conduct; and
  • Certain criminal convictions

Unlike with a no-fault divorce, certain fault grounds - if proven - don’t require a separation period and may allow the parties to obtain a divorce immediately.

We generally think of “court costs” as the filing fee - the amount of money that you pay to the clerk's office to receive the first paper in the case, open the case, and then start processing the filings. It varies by county. For a breakdown of civil fees in Howard County, MD, click here.

Maryland has been rolling out online filing for the last couple of years. We do it through a system called MDEC. it's being rolled out county to county, and not all counties are online yet.

As of November 2019, e-Filing on MDEC is available in the following counties: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, and Worcester counties.

I believe the underlying question here is whether you can file for divorce without the assistance of an attorney. While it may be possible, in most instances, it is not in your best interest. In simple terms, you don’t know what you don’t know. The danger here is that you might not know what you should have put in the agreement when you filed, and you may pay a price for that down the road when a problem arises. For example, perhaps your agreement says that your spouse will stay in the marital home for two years, at which point it will then be sold. But, what happens if your ex stops making the payments and the property goes to foreclosure during that two year period?

At the very least, you should have your agreement reviewed by an experienced divorce attorney prior to filing online.

To learn more about the potential risks of a “DIY Divorce,” click here.

Help with Divorce, Separation and Post-Divorce Issues in Maryland

At Coover Law Firm, we are here with you every step of the way, and will advocate for you on every issue relevant to your divorce. We make sure that all property is located, correctly identified as marital or separate property, and accurately valued for a fair property settlement. On important matters such as custody or support, we make sure your voice is heard and your needs are met. We also assist clients in post-divorce modifications or enforcement of domestic relations orders where necessary.

If you are seeking a divorce lawyer in Howard County, contact the Coover Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation at our office, conveniently located across from Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. Call us at (410) 553-5042  or complete the form below.

For directions to our office, please click here.