Articles Posted in Family Law

Separation and divorce signal the end of a marriage. Maryland law gives these terms very different meaning. These terms mean different things in every state but particularly in Maryland.  If you are considering a divorce, you want to understand the legal differences between the two.  Separation and divorce are two distinct legal processes, each with its own requirements and consequences. This article examines the differences between separation and divorce in Maryland and provide important information for those considering ending their marriage and why this distinction is important to you.

What is Separation in Maryland? (Limited Divorce)

While Maryland does not allow for legal separation, it does offer limited divorces.  So a limited divorce is what people call a separation.  If someone says, “I’m legally separated from my spouse,” they have a limited divorce.  You can also call it a “legal separation.”

How much does a divorce cost in Maryland? This post aims to give you a better idea of the cost of a Maryland divorce lawyer.

First, is asking a lawyer how much a divorce will cost similar to asking a barber how often you should get a haircut?  Absolutely.  But the key difference here is we don’t cut your kind of hair.  We are not divorce lawyers and will not represent you in your Maryland divorce.

Can you vacate a divorce and have your husband’s new marriage annulled? You almost can, as the plaintiff found out in Peete v. Peete, decided by the Maryland Appellate Court in March 2023.

Facts of Peete v. Peete

Bessie was married to a man named Author in 1971. She separated from him in 1975. In 1991, Author filed for divorce from Bessie in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, and Bessie did not file an answer nor appear at the divorce hearing. As a result, the court granted Author a default judgment of absolute divorce. Author later married a woman appropriately named “Maryland.” The two remained married until Author died in 2007. Upon Author’s death, Maryland was appointed executor of his estate.

Whether a couple is married has so many social and legal implications.  So whether Maryland recognizes common-law marriage is an important and sometimes complex question.

Does Maryland Law Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Maryland law does not recognize common-law marriages. Only ten states and the District of Columbia still recognize common-law marriages.

But, and this is the key, if a valid common-law marriage has been created in a jurisdiction that recognizes common-law marriages, the marriage is valid in Maryland.

The Washington Post reports on an utter mess where a Virginia divorce lawyer sues his client and then winds up, after five monetary sanctions from the court for failing to appear for mandatory appearances, paying sanctions, and paying the client he sued $102,000 to settle the client’s counterclaim.

Why did the lawyer settle? In pretrial discovery, the lawyer produced his billing records that showed there were days he billed for 39, 31, 40, and… 71 hours. That’s hard to do in a 24 hour day. The Post also made an issue of the fact he billed 226 hours per month over a 16-month period. That seems more likely to be inflated given what we now know, but there are some defense lawyers who are legitimately billing like that. (They don’t have lives, to be sure.)

Anyway, you don’t walk away from this article thinking you know the whole story. Something else had to be going on here.

The Associated Press reports that a domestic lawyer in Sacramento pled no contest to four counts of sexual battery and one count of attempted sexual contact.

The prosecutor’s allegations were incredible. This divorce lawyer told clients that he had a pharmacy degree and would touch them under the auspices of performing medical procedures during consultations, which are always necessary to get for a divorce lawyer. In one instance, he allegedly offered to reduce a client’s bill by $5,000 if she had sex with him.

Are you kidding me? $5,000? This guy gave up a viable insanity defense.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in favor of an adoptive lesbian mother, denying visitation rights to her former partner.

Here are the facts in a nutshell: Two women, identified as Janice M. and Margaret K. by the court, met in 1986. After in vitro fertilization attempts failed, the couple adopted a child from India. India prohibits same-sex adoptions, so Janice adopted the child without her partner obtaining legal status. Presumably, Margaret relied on their long-term relationship to assume that no legal formalities were required. Besides, there is no Maryland case law or statute addressing whether same-sex parents may adopt children. But we know in practice that many Maryland same-sex couples adopt children, notwithstanding the lack of legal approbation. Here, both Janice and Margaret were acting as the child’s parents, dividing up responsibilities for caring for the child.

After an eighteen-year relationship, the couple separated in 2004. Janice kept the house and physical custody of the child, but Margaret continued to see the child three or four times a week. Not surprisingly, Janice soon wielded her legal status as the mother over Margaret, setting new conditions for visitation and requiring details as to who would be with the child during visitation. Reading between the lines, I suspect Margaret was the one that ended the relationship.

I have never felt like practicing law in Maryland was like practicing in Mayberry. But the Maryland Daily Record reports today that the Maryland Judiciary is holding a contest to rename the title “master” that is given to those designated to assist and advise judges, typically in family law and juvenile cases. The Judicial Cabinet, the judiciary’s policy-making body, will determine the contest winner who will be treated to dinner.

The Maryland Lawyer Blog is starting to really sink its teeth into the sperm donor recipients who strike a deal with the donor only to later seek child support. This is our second blog on the issue in as many months.

In this case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court went into a different direction, ruling that Joel McKiernan, whose sperm donation allowed his former co-worker and girlfriend Ivonne Ferguson to give birth to twin boys in August 1994, does not have to make monthly child support payments or pay thousands of dollars in back support to help support the now 13-year-old boys. McKiernan donated his sperm to his former girlfriend in 1993 with the understanding that he would have no legal rights to the children and would not have to pay any child support. However, it appears that this agreement was never put in writing, and in 1999, Ferguson sued McKiernan for child support.

The trial judge ruled that McKiernan must pay $66,000 in back support and make monthly payments of $1,500, despite strongly disagreeing with Ms. Ferguson’s decision to renege on her original agreement. The Supreme Court overturned this earlier decision, stating that although ruling in favor of Mr. McKiernan would deny the boys additional support, they would not have been born had Ms. Ferguson not agreed that Mr. McKiernan would not be financially responsible for the children.

Newsday reports on a recent Nassau County Family Court ruling that found a New York physician who said he donated sperm to a female co-worker as a friendly gesture is the legal father of an Oregon boy and must pay child support to the college-bound 18-year-old teenager.

In 1988, a New York doctor donated his sperm to a lesbian couple who wanted a child. Regardless of your position on this kind of stuff, it was an altruistic gesture. Probably because he had some affection for the woman, he never put in writing that he would have no legal rights or obligations regarding the child.

The lines between sperm donor and father were first blurred when the doctor allowed his name to appear on the boy’s birth certificate, an unusual choice he decided upon so that the boy would have a better sense of his identity as he got older. The nature of the relationship became even hazier in the following years as the doctor kept in contact with the child, sending him gifts and money and even cards that he signed “Daddy” or “Dad.” (If you are thinking this is all very strange, I’m right there with you.)