Articles Posted in Family Law

Whether a couple is married has so many social and legal implications.  So the question of 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. There are only ten states and the District of Columbia that 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.

I read David Bernstein’s post regularly on the Volokh Conspiracy. I completely disagree with his post on Friday about a Virginia mother charged with leaving her child in a car who is under 8 years old. Bernstein says.

I not only played in my back yard unattended at age eight, but, if I remember correctly, was free to wander around my neighborhood unaccompanied by an adult so long as I came home before dark, and in New York City (Queens) no less. Somehow, I survived unscathed, as did each and every one of my peers.

Most of the comments on the blog disagree with me. One of his readers commented on how we were becoming a “Nanny State” and others pointed out that his parents would have been guilty of child abuse. As for the latter point, this is true. But we also didn’t wear helmets when riding our bikes, nor did we sit in car seats. It is child abuse today not to put your child in a car seat. The result of this law is there are thousands of more kids who got to become adults because they were not killed in an accident. Does anyone really argue that child seat law is a good law? Times change and, yes, the elements of the care given by parents in 1970 would be child abuse today. This is a good thing.

I tend to forget that the Maryland Association of Justice has resources for family lawyers in Maryland because our law firm only handles personal injury cases. But they do. On May 15th in Columbia, MAJ is putting on “How Masters Are Deciding Difficult Cases” with the following speakers and topics:


The Honorable C. Theresa Beck, Master, Baltimore County

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.)

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals, in a 4 to 3 majority, declined an attempt to legalize gay marriage. The majority did, however, underscore the legislature’s authority to choose to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Court reversed Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Brooke Murdock’s decision which found that the marriage statute, Family Law Article 2-201, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional because it discriminated based on gender, thereby violating the Equal Rights amendment.

The opinion contained a partial concurrence/dissent and two dissenting opinions, one by Chief Judge Robert Bell. The majority held that the Equal Rights Amendment was not violated because the law discriminates equally between men and women who wished to engage in same-sex marriage (as opposed to only one of the sexes not being able to marry). This is a brilliant application of the law or the twisting of logic to get to the result the Court wanted to reach. I cannot decide. Either way, the ball is still in the hands of the Maryland legislature.