Domestic disputes, divorces, and Maryland child custody arrangements are some of the most emotionally loaded situations a family can face. It’s difficult to resolve these issues without the skilled legal insight of a Maryland family lawyer.
If you have questions about family law matters in Maryland, we’re here to help. Below, the team at Zirkin & Schmerling Law answers frequently asked questions about a range of family law concerns.
However, every family is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a family law case. For more information about your specific situation, please call us 24/7 at 410-753-4611 or schedule your free consultation online.
Family Law FAQ
In the city of Baltimore, the Circuit Court – Family Division handles family law matters and offers connections to family and divorce resources. You can also contact a Maryland family law/divorce attorney, who can help you understand your options for divorce and begin the legal process.
In Maryland, there are two different ways to legally prevent unwanted contact and harassment: Protective Orders and Peace Orders.
A Maryland Protective Order is the legal, technical term for what most laypeople call a “restraining order.” It is a criminally enforceable, civil court order that protects certain victims of domestic violence from abuse. Among other provisions, protective order can contain provisions for an abuser to vacate the home, emergency custody of a child, no-contact language, emergency family maintenance funds, and no trespassing language for any applicable domicile, school, or workplace. A final protective order can last up to two years.
In order to be eligible for a protective order, a petitioner needs to fit the legal definition of a “person eligible for relief.” That means that your relationship must fall under the following categories:
- A current or former spouse of the respondent (the person whom you are trying to obtain the protective order against)
- A cohabitant of the respondent (“cohabitant” is defined as “a person who has had a sexual relationship with the respondent and resided with the respondent in the home for a period of at least 90 days, within 1 year before filing the petition”)
- A person related to the respondent by blood, marriage, or adoption
- A parent, stepparent, child, or stepchild of the respondent, or the petitioner, who lives or lived with the respondent or petitioner for at least 90 days –within one year of filing the petition (ex: two people in a romantic relationship reside in the same home. A child also lives in the home, but the child is only related to one of the adults. That child is also eligible for protection under a protective order).
- A vulnerable adult (an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their own daily needs)
- An individual who has a child in common with the respondent
- An individual who has had a sexual relationship with the respondent within 1 year prior to filing the petition
- An individual who alleges that the respondent committed, within 6 months prior to filing the petition any of the following acts against the individual:
- Rape or sexual offense
- Attempt rape or sexual offense in any degree
Additionally, abuse, or the imminent threat of abuse must have occurred prior to the petition being filed. “Abuse” is defined as:
- An act that causes serious bodily harm
- An act that places the petitioner in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- Rape or sexual offense
- False imprisonment
The application process has two steps: a temporary protective order, and a final protective order. A temporary protective order is the result of the initial request for a protective order. A temporary protective order can last anywhere from one week to 6 months, with good cause shown. Temporary orders can also be obtained without the respondent being present in court. Most courts in MD have a very quick process for obtaining a temporary protective order—it is seen as an emergency order to prevent immediate, imminent risk of harm. The standard of proof—the level of credibility you need to obtain a temporary protective order—is only “reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has abused a person eligible for relief.” Once you obtain a temporary protective order, the courts work in conjunction with your local police or sheriff’s department to serve the respondent with the protective order. They can assist you by making sure that the respondent vacates the home, and may provide an escort to the respondent in order for the respondent to obtain personal belongings from the home.
The second step in obtaining a protective order is the final protective order hearing. At that hearing, there is a higher standard of proof—the court need to find that it is at least 51% likely the alleged abuse (or threat of abuse) occurred. At that hearing, you can and should bring witnesses and evidence to prove you case. Final protective orders generally last 1 to 2 years. In very special and limited cases, a final protective order can last indefinitely, until the victim requests termination. Final protective orders will enforce the same type of provisions as a temporary protective order (no contact, vacate the home, use and possession of cars and pets, child custody, no trespassing on school, work, or other domiciles frequented by the petitioner). Additionally, final protective orders can include emergency family maintenance provisions that require the respondent to pay for things like mortgages, car payments, utilities, and child support.
If a respondent violates a protective order, either temporary or final, that respondent can be arrested.
A Maryland peace order is a type of no-contact order that has similar protections to a protective order, but may be granted to a person without any sort of special relationship with the respondent. However, in order to obtain a peace order, the alleged incident of abuse must have occurred within 30 days of filing the petition, and you have to show that the abuse is likely to occur again. Acts that qualify as abuse are:
- Serious bodily harm
- an act that places the petition in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- rape/sexual offense
- false imprisonment
- malicious destruction of property
A peace order notifies someone that they must abide by the court’s order to stop harassing, stalking, and otherwise bothering you. If the person fails to follow the peace order, they could be assigned penalties. Like a protective order, a peace order is a two step process involving a temporary peace order and a final peace order. However, a final peace order can only last for 6 months to a year.
The best way to ensure you don’t make mistakes that could harm your ability to secure a protective order or a peace order is to work through a Maryland family law attorney with experience helping clients obtain peace orders.
A Maryland divorce is either a divorce with grounds or a no-fault divorce. Acceptable grounds include desertion, adultery, imprisonment for a crime, cruelty, insanity, and vicious conduct toward the spouse or children. For a no-fault divorce, a year-long separation or mutual consent is sufficient.
A mutual consent divorce occurs when both spouses agree to the divorce, and there is no waiting period required. Both must sign an agreement that resolves property, assets, and the custody of any minor children in common. Because there is no waiting period, or any sort of required separation period, this option is optimal for couples who are both in favor of divorce and do not wish to sustain two households for an extended period of time. However, the settlement agreement must include information on all shared assets, marital property, and child custody and child support guidelines—even if there is an agreement to not divide up that property and simply allocate it to one party.
Using social media during a divorce comes with pros and cons. You might be able to use it to find important information about behavior, friendships, and other details that impact your case. However, it can also be used against you by the other side. Your lawyer will likely advise you to lock down or disable your social media accounts to prevent them from being used against you. But remember, anything shared on social media can never be completely hidden or erased from the internet. You may want to screenshot anything you believe is relevant to your divorce case, and then proceed to block your spouse and any other potentially hostile individuals from viewing your account.
The first step to getting a divorce in Maryland is to speak to a Maryland family law and divorce attorney and discuss your divorce options. At Zirkin & Schmerling Law, we’ll help you understand the two main types of divorce, as well as things you can do to strengthen your case and protect yourself. When you hire us, we stay by your side throughout the divorce process until it’s finalized with the state of Maryland.
Maryland has two main types of divorce. In a limited divorce, the spouses live apart and separate assets, but the divorce can be reversed. An absolute divorce is permanent and finalizes the division of assets between the spouses. Generally speaking, a limited divorce is temporary or like a “trial separation agreement,” but it can become final later. Nothing legally requires a divorce to be either limited or absolute unless one party requests it.
“Best Interests of the Child” is the over-arching legal standard of review that a court must use in order to determine physical custody. While there are more than a dozen factors codified in Maryland Law that courts are required to consider, the list in the statute is not considered exhaustive. Rather, courts must consider all factors that may affect the child’s mental health, physical health, and over-all wellbeing. These factors include who is the child’s current primary caregiver, how qualified the current caregiver is, how stable the family is, the location of residence, the length of any parental separation, and what the child prefers. A child’s age, health, and gender are also factors. When the court considers the child’s preferences, the court will make a determination of “considered judgment.” A child is determined to have considered judgment if they are able to voice an opinion, as well as their justifications for that opinion. There is no minimum age for considered judgment in Maryland.
In Maryland, alimony payments are not set forth statutorily. This means a judge must decide both the amount and the period of alimony based on the financial needs and abilities of the parties. Two types of alimony can be awarded: rehabilitative or indefinite. Rehabilitative is set for a period to allow the person to start successfully supporting themselves. Indefinite alimony has no fixed end date and may continue for a long period or become permanent. Indefinite alimony is much harder to obtain than rehabilitative alimony, and requires an “unconscionably disparate” standard of living between ex-spouses.
In Maryland, marital property includes a home, land, and property owned/acquired during the marriage. Because the state views this marital property as owned together during the marriage, it must be divided at the point of divorce.
Have a Legal Question? We Have Answers
The team at Zirkin & Schmerling Law has been handling family law cases for decades and has a track record of working diligently for Maryland families. For more assistance and legal advice regarding your specific situation, please call us 24/7 at 410-753-4611 or schedule your free consultation online with one of our experienced family lawyers today.