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As the Baltimore Sun reports, and most of Maryland has heard, Maryland voters made history on Election Day as they voted to make same-sex marriage legal in our State. As we discussed in our February 24, 2012 blog the Maryland Senate passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act legalizing same-sex marriage in February 2012, but we knew that the decision would ultimately be up to the voters. After months of campaigning, fundraising and controversy over the law, the voters have spoken. Maryland has joined six other states and Washington D.C. in allowing same-sex marriage and is one of only two States to pass same-sex legislation by the popular vote.

As of January 1, 2013, same-sex couples will be permitted to obtain a marriage license from the Court, just as a heterosexual couple would. As of now the current law defining a legal marriage in Maryland, found at Maryland Code Family Law, § 2-201 states “[o]nly a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.” As of January 1, 2013 the statute will read “[o]nly a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this State.”

We have previously blogged about the issues that surround the recognition of same-sex marriages in Maryland, specifically the Attorney General’s support of recognizing same sex marriages created validly in other states and Maryland lawmakers attempt to block gay marriages. Most recently we discussed the Court of Appeals recently heard arguments on the denial of a same sex divorce in Prince George’s County. The Court of Appeals issued its decision in May 2012 holding “[a] valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statues, reported cases, and court rules of this state.”
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Most of us are covered in case of death, disability, illness, car accident, fire, but what about for divorce? As we are aware divorce can be a lengthy and expensive process and unfortunately the divorce rate in the United States is high. We stumbled across the following website, which promotes “divorce/ marriage insurance.” It was featured in the Huffington Post in April 2012. Basically, the premise is that this insurance will reimburse you your costs of a divorce, including attorney fees, however the insurance will also eventually reward those who stay married. As stated by the Huffington Post, the insurance is not currently available and the website states the following:

WedLock Divorce Insurance was the first insurance product developed by SafeGuard Guaranty. Introduced in 2010 and originally underwritten by a Utah Surplus Lines insurance company, WedLock is not currently available until a new underwriter is found. However, although providing that kind of protection will certainly keep people from falling below the poverty line, we’d like the biggest reward go to those that have the good fortune to stay married and we are currently involved in the development of a product with that in mind.

The website also features a “divorce probability calculator,” which one can use and have their results emailed to them. The questions include age, income, race, religion, children born before/during marriage, marital status of parents, conflicts, etc. Soon some of us may be making checks out to not only State Farm, but SafeGuard Guaranty.
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The Maryland Court of Appeals will hear an appeal on a denied same sex divorce next month according to the Baltimore Sun’s March 17, 2012 report. The couple, who was married in San Francisco in 2008, were married for two years before one filed for divorce in Maryland. Their uncontested divorce was denied by the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Judge Chapdelaine of the Court denied the divorce because he found the parties California marriage was not valid in Maryland and therefore they can not divorce in Maryland. We had previously blogged on this issue as the Courts are in limbo with the legislation being passed, but not yet in effect and in light of the Attorney General’s February 2010 opinion that Maryland should recognize same sex marriages in other states as valid in Maryland. The Sun reports that few counties have granted same sex divorces, including Baltimore City, Calvert County and Prince Georges County, in another instance. As it stands it is the Judge’s call, which is why this future ruling by Maryland’s highest Court is crucial. If the Maryland Court of Appeals upholds Judge Chapdelaine’s ruling those same sex divorces that have been granted could be then potentially nullified.
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Bloomberg rated Maryland the 10th worst state in the country as far as obstacles one might face in obtaining a divorce as reported by msn.com on February 2, 2012. The rankings took into account filing fees, minimum separation period, minimum length of residency, minimum waiting period after filing for the divorce, and minimum number of days for the entire process (start to finish). Bloomberg’s reasoning for Maryland’s low ranking was the one year waiting period before filing for a no-fault divorce, the minimum processing time of 360 days and the $135 filing fee.

The waiting period to obtain a no-fault divorce in Maryland has been at hot topic among the legislature as proponents seek to reduce it to six months. As stated in our April 18, 2011 blog, the Maryland legislature passed a bill eliminating the two year waiting period, which took effect October 1, 2011.
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As the Baltimore Sun reports, Thursday night, February 23, 2012, the Maryland Senate passed Govern Martin O’Malleys’ bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. We blogged on June 28, 2011 that New York had passed the law allowing same sex couples to wed, making it the 6th state to do so. Maryland is now the 8th state to approve same sex marriages. While it is a victory for supporters of the bill, many believe that the law will likely be up to the voters in November. If the law is passed by the voters, it will be effective in January 2013.

As expected the church has voiced their disapproval of the bill’s passing. The Maryland Daily Record reports that Baltimore’s Cardinal O’Brien states that the bill “threatens families.” He has pledged that the Baltimore Archdiocese will work to overturn the law and likely will be a key proponent in making sure the voters have a say in November.

We discussed the potential of this bill passing last February and discussed the changes we may see in the area of family law as a result of the law. . As stated in the blog, the law will affect custody and visitation law, as now same-sex couples who marry and adopt a child will both be the legal parents of the child; pre-nuptial agreements; and same sex divorces.
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As we reported on June 6, 2011, a novel issue was presented to the Court of Appeals involving law firm intervention in divorce in order to seek attorney’s fees. In the case of Tydings & Rosenberg LLP v. John Zorzit, Tydings & Roseberg former client, Julie Zorzit, after employing the firm to do a substantial amount of work, met privately with her husband, John Zorzit, and waived all rights for her attorney’s fees to be paid by her husband. The firm was seeking the fees, as Ms. Zorzit could not afford to pay for the work that had already been done, but Mr. Zorzit could. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County denied the firms request for the fees, and the case was appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

On October 30, 2011, the Maryland Daily Record reported that the Court of Appeals found in Tydings & Rosenberg’s favor and held that family law attorneys can intervene in a divorce proceeding in order to ensure that they are paid for their services. The Court stated that The Maryland Code, Family Law Article § 7-107, the statute governing attorneys fees in divorce matters, gives the Court the authority to award counsel fees to a party’s lawyer directly, and therefore Tydings & Rosenberg had the right to intervene. The Court affirmed the parties’ divorce but vacated other provisions in their Judgment of Absolute Divorce and sent the case back to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County to be heard on the issue of attorney fees.

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On Saturday, November 12, 2011, the Carroll County Times provided commentary on the differences between celebrity divorces, such as Kim Kardashian, and divorces for residents of Maryland. As we reported in our April 18, 2011 blog, as of October 1, 2011, Maryland has eliminated the 2 year waiting period to seek a divorce, making obtaining a divorce in Maryland a bit easier, although not as easy at it is for Kim K.

Previously, one filing for a divorce had to specify whether both parties, or just the moving party was seeking the divorce. If both parties were seeking a divorce, then only a one year separation period was required, if only one party was seeking the divorce, then a two year separation period was required. This distinction is no longer as of October 1, 2011 and separation, whether mutual or non mutual is only required to be one year to file for a divorce. As we mentioned in our April 18, 2011 blog, proponents of this legislation believe that it is one step closer to reducing the waiting period to obtaining a divorce, making a Kim K. divorce a future reality for Marylanders.
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In our August 25, 2011 blog we discussed custody evaluation as one of the services that can be available to parties subject to domestic litigation. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County is one of the County courts that currently offers custody evaluations to those litigants with highly contested custody matters. They also offer co-parent education classes, custody mediation, home studies and supervised visitation. These services are currently offered to parties who qualify at no cost. The litigant or the litigant’s attorney needs to either file a motion with the Court requesting these services or request the service at the scheduling conference.

Commencing October 3, 2011, the Circuit Court will begin charging for these services, due to a decrease in funding received from the State Judiciary. The fees will be as follows:

• Co-Parent Education Classes: $35 per person

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Many times in cases where I represent the Father in a Maryland custody case, child support is often an issue where perhaps some believe the man is treated somewhat inequitably. While I do not necessarily agree that is always the case, I have heard many Father’s say “If I were a woman, child support would not even be an issue, I would get what I am supposed to get.” Well for all those Dad’s out there, I am happy to report that I recently successfully argued a ‘voluntary impoverishment’ case. In this case, the non-custodial parent (who happens to be a Mother) is being forced to pay child support based upon what she has the ability to earn because the Court determined she was not doing so at the time of the hearing.

Voluntary Impoverishment cases are difficult cases to prove unless the non-custodial parent basically admits s/he not working to avoid paying child support. In Maryland, for the purposes of child support guidelines, a parent shall be considered “voluntarily impoverished” whenever the parent has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond his or her control, to render himself or herself without adequate resources. The factors a Court will consider in making such a determination as to whether a parent is a voluntary impoverished are: (1) his or her current physical condition; (2) his or her respective level of education; (3) the timing of any change in employment or other financial circumstances relative to the divorce proceedings; (4) the relationship between the parties prior to the initiation of divorce proceedings; (5) his or her efforts to find an retain employment; (6) his or her efforts to secure retraining if that is needed; (7) whether he or she has ever withheld support; (8) his or her past work history; (9) the area in which the parties live and the status of the job market there; and (10) any other considerations presented by either party.

In the particular case, after considering all of the above factors the key factor for the Court was (5) her efforts to find and retain employment. At the first hearing, the Court actually ordered the Mother to make a certain number of applications each week of which a certain number had to be in person interviews, not just on-line applications. When we returned for the second hearing, the Mother had a stack of unorganized computer print outs, which although requested to be provided prior to the second hearing date, were not provided until we were in Court that day. After a review of the documents and a cross examination that revealed the Mother was limiting her availability for potential employers; turned down a job because she didn’t want to start when they offered; and was not wearing appropriate interview attire, the Court found that the Mother was voluntarily impoverishing herself. As a result the Court imputed her an income equivalent to that which she had the ability to earn. The icing on the cake for my client was that the Court also imposed monetary sanctions for the Mother’s failure to timely provide the documents brought to Court on the date of the second and final hearing. At the end of the day, this particular Dad is finally receiving a decent amount of child support based on what the Mother has the ability to earn and is really a victory for all custodial parents, whether you happen to be Mom or Dad.
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As we have explained in previous blogs, in most counties in Maryland, the first scheduled court date once litigation has commenced is a scheduling conference. This is an opportunity for the litigants to tell the Court what hearings/trials they will need and court services they might need. Among those services to ask for may be a custody evaluation. In counties such as Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County custody evaluations are available at no cost in those custody cases where a Judge or Master can be convinced it is necessary. These would typically be cases where custody is highly contested or other exceptional circumstances exists (an unfit home, potential abuse, etc). A description of the custody evaluations performed in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County can be found at their respective websites.

Depending on the county where the evaluation is ordered, an evaluation typically involves a meeting with both parents with the children, possibly a visit to each parent’s home, and interview with those who frequently interact with the parents and children (counselors, school staff, family members). Once the evaluation is completed, a report is typically drafted by the evaluator where he or she will recommend a custody arrangement and their reasons for recommending same. The Court may set in a conference date for the parties to review the evaluation, or the evaluation will be sent to the parties and/or their attorneys.
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