Articles Posted in Divorce

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I have a handful of clients in this exact situation and all of them are finding it increasingly difficult to share space in a home they no longer want to share with the other. In addition to grudgingly sharing the space, they are attempting to do so while one or both are working from home or while one is working and the other is laid off, while attempting to assist their children with distance/remote learning, and while juggling the household tasks of cooking cleaning, paying bills, etc. Needless to say emotions are on the rise. In a few of the cases I have been able to work out agreed upon designated areas (specific rooms) for each party to conduct their working from home duties, along with times for the use of those spaces, scheduling days and/or subjects each parent is responsible for assisting the children with their education, and how to handle the payment of expenses. While not a permanent solution, ‘rules’ to follow hopefully give the parents and children some consistency to reduce the tension in household.

If you find yourself in a situation such as this some considerations to develop a plan for your home environment during the COVID-19 confinement are:

What are each parents work-related commitments, days and times?

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Many parents have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the closure of non-essential businesses and the government recommendation to stay at home, some parents are not able to find work. A court-ordered obligation to pay child support does not automatically stop because of a job loss, even if that job loss if through no fault of your own.

If you have lost your job and are unable to pay child support, we encourage you to communicate with your co-parent as soon as possible. Perhaps a written agreement or consent order can be worked out between the two of you to stay the child support payments until you are back to work. In Maryland, child support can be modified in certain circumstances, but with the courts only hearing certain types of emergency matters at the present time, a hearing on the modification will take longer than usual. However, it may still be worth filing with the court for a modification to attempt to protect yourself from the accumulation of child support arrearages while unemployed. In the meantime, the Maryland Judiciary has directed that you must continue to pay child support as ordered. The Maryland Judiciary has suggested that if you have questions or need help, whether you pay or receive child support, to call the Department of Human Services Call Center 1-800-322-6347. Maryland Courts Coronavirus Information

If you are experiencing a problem in paying or receiving child support during these challenging times, we encourage you to reach out to an experienced family attorney for guidance and assistance.

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We understand that parents are facing challenging times in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. When one parent is an essential employee, it is especially concerning for co-parents when children transition from one parent’s home to the other for court-ordered parenting time. National news stories are filled with children and parents greeting each other through glass doors and windows. Those front-line, essential-employee parents recognize that in-person contact with their children during this COVID-19 pandemic is not in the best interest of the health and safety of their children.  New Battle for those on Coronavirus Front Lines: Child Custody .  Closer to home, the White House has now officially designated the Baltimore / Washington, D.C. area as an emerging COVID-19 hotspot. Baltimore/Washington DC Emerging Hot Spot.

If you co-parent with a front-line or essential employee in Maryland, we encourage you to communicate as co-parents to come to a physical custody and access arrangement in the best interest of the health and safety of your children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maryland Judiciary has provided direction that if co-parents cannot agree, they must follow the terms of the court Order.

If you need help navigating the conversation, we encourage you to reach out to an experienced family attorney.

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Another unfortunate consequence of COVID-19 is the postponement of the pendente lite hearings, settlement conferences and merit trials which were actually scheduled on the court docket months ago, but are not going forward as planned due to the court closures. Thus far, my experience has been that the courts are working hard to get the postponed cases reset as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I have already had several client matters get reset only to be postponed and reset yet again as a result of the Administrative Order to extend the court closures. As a litigant, this can be extremely frustrating especially when the access to/custody of your children and finances remain uncertain.

Mediation remains an option to consider bringing temporary or complete closure to your family law matter. Mediation has the capability of being conducted via video conferencing with a trained mediator or retired Judge which will ensure all parties, counsel and the mediator remain in compliance with CDC recommendations and Governor Hogan’s Orders while we all weather this crisis. The upside to successful mediation is you have some or complete closure now versus months from now when your matter is finally set back in to be heard by the Court. Mediation does not work in every case, but given these uncertain and challenging times, it may be worth considering as an option.

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The short answer is yes, if your situation meets the statutory requirements for a protective order, peace order or extreme risk protective order, you may still obtain an interim order of protection. Pursuant to the Maryland Court of Appeals Chef Judge Administrative Order issued March 25, 2020, all petitions for new protective orders, peace orders, and extreme risk protective orders are to be handled by the District Court Commissioners’ office in the County/City where you would normally file. If granted by the Commissioner, the Interim Order will remain in place until further action is taken by the Court. As of now (April 7, 2020), the temporary hearings are being set for May 4 and 5, 2020 which may be subject to change, if the Administrative Order is modified.

If you are in need of protection and are seeking a protective order, peace order or extreme risk protective order, you should call the District Court Commissioner in your county or City first to obtain instructions on where to go.

If you need legal assistance, you should contact an attorney with experience in representing clients with Protective Orders, Peace Orders, and Extreme Risk Protective Orders.

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Oftentimes, parents with the best intentions disagree on how to manage the health, safety, and medical issues of their children. Throw in a pandemic and navigating custody and access becomes even more of a challenge with COVID-19 CDC recommendations and government-imposed restrictions. As a practitioner, this is a first, and we are all seeking some guidance from the judiciary to help us support and advise our clients on these issues. The Maryland Judiciary has put out the following statement on matters concerning children and families.

With schools closed and courthouses restricting operations to reduce exposure to COVID-19, custodians who live apart might be confused about changing family situations and their court orders. This statement is intended to clarify concerns you may have regarding these matters.

Custody and Parenting Time:

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Maness remains precedent in above the guidelines cases.

Maness v. Sawyer, 108 Md. App. 295 (2008).

In Maness, the Court of Special Appeals, again, reviewed an above-the-guidelines case. The father’s monthly actual income was $7,833 and the mother’s monthly actual income was $8,333, totaling a combined monthly income of $16,166.  This combined monthly income was beyond the $10,000 ceiling for the Maryland Child Support Guidelines at the time under Md. Family Law Code Ann. § 12-204(e), therefore, judicial discretion was used in the calculation of the child support obligation in accordance with Md. Family Law Code Ann. § 12-204(d).  The trial court ordered the father to pay $1,203 per month in child support.

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Jackson remains precedent in “above the guidelines” cases.

Jackson v. Proctor, 145 Md. App. 76 (2002).

The Court of Special appeals reviewed, once again, an above-the-guidelines case involving a professional football player in Jackson. The appellant, Mr. Jackson, earned an average salary of $710,000 per year, exclusive of bonuses, throughout his three year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The appellee earned a miniscule annual income that was around $16,000 per year, while she was earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Penn State University.  The parties’ combined monthly income exceeded $55,000 per month, constituting an above-the-guidelines, discretionary child support determination under Md. Family Law Code Ann. § 12-204(d).

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Freeman remains precedent in “above-the-guidelines” cases.

Smith v. Freeman, 149 Md. App. 1 (2002).

In Smith, the Court of Special Appeals addressed another above-the-guidelines case.  This case differs from the aforementioned cases as the parties were never married.  Antonio Freeman, the appellee was a professional football player earning annual salaries over $1,000,000 per year.  At all points relevant to this matter, the appellant was unemployed and attending school.  When the parties initially entered into an agreement regarding child support, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $1.2 million.  At that time, Mr. Freeman was making a combined monthly child support payment of $4,016.66, which included the $3,500 child support payment the parties agreed upon and a monthly payment of $516.66 for the child’s tuition.  Two years later, Mr. Freeman was making an annual salary of $3.2 million.  Following this rise in salary, the appellant, Ms. Smith, requested a modification of the child support obligation arguing a material change in circumstances.

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Bagley remains precedent in “above-the-guidelines” cases

Bagley v. Bagley, 98 Md. App. 18 (1993)

In Bagley, the Court of Special Appeals was asked to review the findings and recommendations of a Domestic Relations Master which were adopted by the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. This case, like Voishan and your current case, was an above-the-guidelines case as the father of the parties’ minor children recorded an annual income of over $507,360.  The master made the recommendation that the father pay $2,722 in child support per month; this recommendation was subsequently adopted by the trial court.

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