Frequently Asked Questions
In Maryland, the only thing that you have to do to be “legally” separated is to live separate and apart from your spouse – under separate roofs – with an intention of ending the marriage. You don’t have to file anything with the Court. However, many spouses find it useful to enter into a Separation Agreement, which is a contract that deals with the many issues that divorcing couples need to make decisions about – what’s going to happen to the house and other marital property, whether there’s going to be alimony to help an economically dependent spouse get on his/her financial feet, a parenting access schedule, child support, etc.
No. If you need help with alimony or child support before the one year separation period that is generally required to get an Absolute Divorce in Maryland, you should talk to an attorney about the options available to you, such as a Limited Divorce and Pendente Lite alimony and child support.
This is a difficult situation that many distressed couples have been facing. A good option for spouses who find themselves in this situation is called Collaborative Divorce. In the Collaborative Divorce Process, the spouses will use a team of Collaboratively trained professionals – attorneys, divorce coaches (mental health practitioners who can help with communication issues and provide information and guidance on child-related issues), and financial professionals – to help them reach an agreement not just about what’s going to happen after the divorce, but also how to manage life while the spouses are still living together and how to put the pieces in place for an eventual separation. The goal of the Collaborative Divorce Process is to come to an agreement while maintaining privacy, respect and civility. It sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. For those who qualify, the Collaborative Project of Maryland can provide pro bono and low bono assistance.
Ideally, parents communicate with one another and come up with a parenting plan for their children so that kids have the benefit of spending time with both of the people they love most in the world. Unfortunately, the words “custody” and “child support” too often get in the way – going through a divorce is an emotionally and financially stressful time, and no parent likes to face the thought of not seeing their children every day. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan for your children (a schedule that outlines when the kids will be with each parent) then a judge will make that decision for you based on what s/he finds to be in the best interests of your children. You should talk to an attorney about mediation, Collaborative Divorce, and litigation options when making a decision about how to approach custody issues.
Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions about your child’s medical care, education, religious upbringing, and general welfare – in other words, the “big” decisions. If parents can communicate effectively, they may have joint legal custody – where they discuss those decisions and come to a mutual agreement. When parents cannot communicate effectively about what is in their child’s best interests, the Court will often award sole legal custody to one of the parents. “Physical custody” refers to the parenting schedule – when will your children be with you and when will they be with the other parent. Sole physical custody, except in unusual cases, does not mean that one parent has the children 24/7 365 days a year. It generally means that the children live primarily with one parent and have a visitation schedule with the other parent.
Collaborative Law and Mediation
Each one of you will be represented by a Collaboratively trained attorney, so when you
• Even though your attorney is representing you as a Collaborative attorney, s/he is still
• Your attorney will help draft and review the agreement that is reached in the all sit down at the table to negotiate an agreement, your attorney is there with you, watching out for you and advising you in real time as the negotiations take place, bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct and the ethical obligations that an attorney has to a client.
Collaborative process – there’s no need to hire an outside attorney to review the agreement.
Some couples choose mediation to work out their divorce-related issues because they believe it will be less expensive to hire one mediator rather than two attorneys. Mediation can be a great option for resolving disputes, but there are some things you should keep in mind:
• Even if your mediator is a licensed attorney, in the mediation setting he or she is a neutral who is ethically prohibited from giving your or your spouse legal advice – so your mediator can’t tell you whether the deal that you’re coming up with in mediation is in your best interest from a legal standpoint, and sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you.
• If there is an unequal “balance of power” between you and your spouse the mediator cannot act as an advocate for you in the mediation – you’re on your own.
• Any good mediator is going to tell both of you to take the agreement that was drafted in mediation to separate attorneys so that the agreement can be reviewed and you can get advice about its impact on you individually – so you’ll end up paying two separate attorneys anyway if you’re smart (again, because what you don’t know might hurt you).