Tuesday, 26 February 2019 17:25

Telling Your Children About Divorce

Separation and divorce is often difficult and overwhelming, and when kids are involved, parents can become riddled with stress and anxiety over how to break the news. When, how, and what you tell your children can have a long lasting impact on them. The following provides parents with some guidance. 

When Should We Tell The Children?

It is best to tell the children only after you and your spouse are certain a separation will happen.  Once you and your spouse have decided that a separation will occur, telling the kids a few weeks prior to the separation allows them to digest and understand what is going to happen and perhaps lessen the upset when one parent moves out.  While it may be tempting to tell older children before telling younger ones, keeping this secret can place a lot of stress on the older child, and telling them together allows the children to offer each other support.   Consider what the kids and you have scheduled before you tell them.  Breaking the news at a quiet time on a weekend allows parents to be available should the kids have questions or want to talk.  

How Should We Tell The Children?

It is best if both parents tell the children together as a united front.  If you cannot tell them together then the next best process would be for each parent to talk to the children separately but sequentially one right after the other.  When both parents deliver the message together, the children are less likely to feel they need to choose “sides”.  Be sure to reinforce that both parents love the children and the children can and should still love both parents.  Because divorce is so emotional, prepare before talking to the kids. One suggestion is to write down what you will each say and determine if there are any topics that are off-limit for discussion.    By reviewing how and what you will tell the children in advance, both parents are more likely to remain calm and avoid becoming upset or angry with one another.  

What Should We Tell The Children?

When telling the children, you need to balance providing enough information without telling them too much.  Avoid placing blame on one parent as it does not benefit the kids and is not in their best interests.  Disparaging a parent in front of the children causes more harm than good down the road.   If you know the plan, even if it is temporary, share it with them. You don’t need a lot of details, simply letting them know who is staying in the house, where the other parent will be living, and how often they will be with each parent.  Reassure the children, but don’t promise something you can’t deliver.  For younger children, reminding them of the plan every so often is helpful.  Let the kids know that you are available if they have questions or if they want to talk. 

Once You Have Told the Children:

Have a support system in place. For example, let teachers, babysitters, daycare providers, coaches, and/or friends’ parents know what is happening.  Ask them to let you know if they observe any unusual behavior from your children.  It is okay to ask for help.  If you are feeling overwhelmed or the kids appear to be having a difficult time dealing with the divorce, contact a therapist who can offer advice and guidance for you and your children.

For more detail and information I suggest reading the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers online publication "What Should We Tell the Children? ....A Parents' Guide for Talk About Separation and Divorce."  Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq. of Hess Family Law is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 18:28

You Are Divorced--Now What?

My divorce is final, does that mean I am done? This is a question divorce lawyers often hear.  While every divorce is different, generally there is still work to be done post-divorce. The following recommendations should help alleviate some post-divorce stress. Your specific Agreement or Judgment will guide you as to what needs to be done in your particular case.  

Review your Agreement or Judgment as soon as possible:

Review your Agreement or Judgment and make a list of all tasks that need to be done and if there is a deadline, note that too. Making a list can ease any stress or overwhelm you are feeling and will help keep you organized.

Retirement Accounts:

If you will divide a pension and/or 401K plan, a court must order a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, commonly abbreviated as QDRO. (Note: A QDRO is not necessary to divide an IRA or a SEP. Also, military pensions, federal, state, county and city retirement plans have their own rules regarding division during divorce-be sure to consult your attorney with regard to specific plans.) Often times your divorce lawyer will refer clients to an attorney who specializes in retirement asset division orders. Confirm with your attorney whether or not he/she will be preparing the necessary paperwork or whether you will need to retain an attorney who specializes in this area of the law. Your divorce settlement agreement or Judgment will not necessarily preserve your rights if the proper orders are not signed by the court and submitted to the plan administrator.  Follow up with your attorney or QDRO preparer to make sure the plan administrator has pre-approved the Order, the Order has been submitted to the Court for signature, and the Court signed and entered Order has been served on the plan administrator.

Beneficiary Designations:

Unless you are required to maintain your spouse as beneficiary, update your beneficiary designation on all retirement accounts.  If you fail to do this, your former spouse could end up inheriting your retirement upon your death.  Also, be sure to check bank, investment, bonds, and other assets that may have beneficiary designations and determine whether those need to be updated.

Update Insurance Policies:

Depending on the terms of your Agreement or Judgment, you may need to update insurance policies:

Health insurance:  Revise health insurance coverage for spouse and/or dependents. If insurance is not available through an employer begin COBRA coverage or open a new individual policy.

Life Insurance: Unless you are required to maintain your spouse as beneficiary, change the beneficiary on all life insurance policies.

Other Insurance: Obtain new insurance policies for auto, home, etc.  Pay attention to the list of assets scheduled on your homeowner’s policy and confirm that you still own those items.  

Review your will and estate documents:

Work with your estate attorney to review, update, and/or create your will, power of attorney for healthcare and finances, a living will, and other documents. If you have any trusts, be sure to review those as well.    

If your name changed, update documents:

Contact agencies such as motor vehicle association, social security office, financial institutions, your employer, and any other government agencies to determine what documents you will need to provide in order to change your name or resume your maiden name.

Contact your Accountant:

Review your Judgment or Agreement with an accountant. You may need to change your withholding, pay more or less estimated taxes, and/or change your investment strategy.   

Practice Self Care:

While it is important to practice self care during the divorce process, once you are divorced, self care is still very important.  Take time to do something that makes you feel good, replenishes your energy, and allows you to tackle issues with a clear head. 

In the case of Huntley v. Huntley, Charles Huntley discovered just how costly it can be if you fail to affirmatively request relief in your pleadings. 

After twenty-eight years of marriage Lydia Huntley filed for divorce. In Lydia’s Complaint she requested, among other things, a monetary award, alimony, a portion of the marital share of Charles’s retirement benefits, and attorney’s fees. Charles filed an Answer in which he denied Lydia’s entitlement to a monetary award and asked the court to deny Lydia an award of alimony. Charles did not request any affirmative relief aside from the grant of a divorce nor did he file a Counter-Complaint. Although Charles subsequently requested a portion of Lydia’s retirement benefits at trial, because Charles did not include such a request in his pleadings, the trial court denied his request. 

On appeal, Charles argued that the trial court erred in refusing to divide Lydia’s retirement benefits. He also contended that Lydia was not prejudiced by his failure to request an equitable division of her retirement benefits because they were included on the parties’ Rule 9-207 form as marital property. The Court of Appeals disagreed finding that the only relief Charles requested in his Answer was that the trial court “grant him a Divorce, and deny [Lydia] alimony.” Charles never filed a Counter-Complaint or an Amended Answer requesting that the court make an equitable division of Lydia’s retirement benefits.

The Court noted that although Lydia listed her retirement assets on form 9-207, the facts stated on this form are “admissions by the parties in a judicial proceeding” and admissions are not the same as pleadings.   Lydia’s request for a portion of Charles’s retirement benefits did not automatically put her on notice that Charles would request a portion of her retirement benefits.  The only way Lydia would be aware of this request would be if Charles indicated such in his pleadings. Charles could have amended his pleadings up until fifteen days prior to trial, but he did not. If Lydia had known that Charles was requesting a portion of her retirement benefits she may have used a different trial strategy and/or requested alternative relief. 

The lesson learned from this case is that it is essential to put the other side on notice by including any and all relief you want in your pleadings.  If you are considering filing for divorce, and/or have been served with divorce papers and need to file an Answer and possibly a Counter-Complaint, Hess Family Law can provide strategic advice based on your particular situation and goals.

Friday, 26 January 2018 16:22

January Dubbed “Divorce” Month

Are you thinking about divorce?  If so, you are not alone. While January has been dubbed divorce month, the first three months of the year are often the busiest with filings beginning to rise in January and continuing to increase through March. Several experts speculate that the reason divorce filings increase during this time period is because most people want to get through the holidays with their family intact. According to Kathryn Smerling, a New York City psychotherapist, “for couples with kids, it can be especially important to “hold things together” during the holidays.” Once the holidays are over, people begin to gather information and decide whether divorce is the path they want to take.

Due to the changes in the tax code, 2018 may prove to be an even busier time for divorce.  Under the new bill, alimony paid by one spouse to the other will not be tax deductible, and the spouse receiving the alimony no longer has to pay taxes on it.  However, the change won’t take effect until 2019, setting up 2018 for a potential increase in divorce filings.  

If you are considering divorce, Hess Family Law can provide advice based on your particular situation and goals.  More information can be read on the Hess Family Law Blog Post Are You Surprised Divorce Filings Rise In January and Contemplating Divorce?  Three Things You Should Do Now.


Source:  Business Insider-Signs that Marriage Trouble Could be Headed for Divorce; Yahoo Finance: Trump’s Tax Bill Will Make 2018 a Wild Year for Divorce

Did you know that in Montgomery County, Maryland the testimony and evidence needed to receive a recommendation for an uncontested divorce have changed?  There are now fewer requirements so it is easier than ever before to present the uncontested divorce testimony.

You no longer need a corroborating witness to testify about the grounds for divorce in Montgomery County, Maryland. You no longer need to ask a parent, sibling, neighbor, co-worker to come to court to testify to corroborate that you satisfy the grounds for divorce.  

You no longer need to prove the marriage that you are trying to end actually took place.  You no longer need a witness who attended the wedding ceremony to testify as to the marriage.  You no longer need to produce a copy of the marriage certificate as an exhibit.  

The only witness that needs to testify is the Plaintiff party requesting the divorce. The Plaintiff's testimony still needs to prove that the grounds for divorce, and all other requirements for divorce are satisfied.   And, if the Defendant wishes to be restored to the use of a former name then the Defendant will need to testify.  

Despite these changes that make it easier to be successful at the uncontested divorce hearing, it is still helpful to have a lawyer represent you at the uncontested divorce hearing, especially if there are any child support, alimony  or division of retirement assets issues.  

If you are considering divorce, Hess Family Law can provide advice based on your situation and/or goals.  


Tuesday, 21 March 2017 14:35

Divorce: There’s an App For That

You may have heard of dating apps, now there are apps that help couples split up.   Technology and apps are an integral part of our lives and it is no surprise that apps and online sites are attempting to help couples navigate the divorce process.  

However, divorce is rarely simple or easy. If couples have issues involving alimony, child support, custody, retirement, and/or property, using a divorce app does not make a lot of sense.   Additionally, the laws vary in different states and couples that use online apps to help them divorce may not be receiving sound legal advice.

Mistakes that may be made in a "do it yourself" divorce can't always be fixed, and/or the fix may be much more expensive than it would have been if an attorney was hired and it was completed correctly from the outset.  In the article "Up next: Swipe right for a divorce" the pros and cons of divorce apps are explored.

If you are considering divorce, Hess Family Law can provide advice based on your particular situation and goals. 

January typically brings a surge in divorce filings as people decide to start the New Year with a clean slate. According to John Slowiaczek, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a spike of 25% to 30% in divorce filings occurs every year in January. Why do people decide to file for divorce at the beginning of the year?  When a relationship is already tenuous, the holidays often bring tension, emotion, and financial burdens, which often trigger a spouse to file for divorce. If you are contemplating divorce, here are three things you should do now:

1.      Be strategic and gather information before rushing to file and escalating the situation.  Make copies of end of year statements, W-2’s, 1099’s and other relevant financial documents.   Have your team and a plan in place before moving forward.  Also, don't make any big financial decisions or changes immediately after the holidays if you are feeling tired or emotional.  

2.      Treat your divorce like you would a business deal. Starting with an aggressive approach can quickly increase the financial and emotional costs of your divorce.  Being respectful and thinking before you act will serve you well in the long run.

3.      Put together a team of professionals. A psychologist can help you make sure that you are thinking clearly; a certified financial planner can help you understand the financial implications of divorce; and a family lawyer can explain the legal aspects so you can understand your rights and what options you have before you move forward.  

If you are considering divorce, Hess Family Law can provide advice based on your particular situation and goals.  More information can be read on the Hess Family Law Blog Post Are You Surprised Divorce Filings Rise In January.


Source: Market Watch, Avoid these common mistakes if you’re filing for divorce in January, published January 2, 2017 http://www.marketwatch.com/story/what-not-to-do-when-filing-for-divorce-2016-12-29


Social and/or religious reasons often prompt individuals to inquire about annulment rather than a divorce, because there is a difference.  An annulment is when the court determines that a valid marriage never existed. A divorce is when the court terminates a valid marriage. 

Although an annulment may be desirable to some, annulment is only available in very limited circumstances.  In order to be granted an annulment in Maryland, one of the following legal grounds must be met:  Duress, Fraud, Mental Disability, Bigamy, Consanquinity or Age.

Duress:      The party seeking the annulment was coerced into getting married at the time of the wedding ceremony and was in fear of great bodily harm if they did not get married.

Fraud:         One spouse defrauded the other to convince him/her to get married.  For fraud to be a basis to annul a marriage, it must be something that affects the health or well-being of the parties or the children of the marriage.  Additionally, once the fraud has been discovered the innocent spouse must not continue to reside with the other spouse otherwise the fraud ground has been waived;

Mental Disability:  One spouse was mentally incapable of getting married;

Bigamy:   One spouse was legal married to another person at the time of the marriage;

Consanguinity:  The parties are more closely related than first cousins;

Age Limits:  If a spouse is under the age of 18, unless the underage spouse is 16 or 17 and had parental consent or is 15 and pregnant and had parental consent.

What happens with children of annulled marriages?   Children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate unless it can be clearly proven that the husband did not father the children.  Just like with a divorce, when a marriage is annulled, the judge can still decide issues like custody, visitation, child support, alimony and attorney’s fees.  The court can also divide any property the spouses have acquired.

If you are contemplating divorce and believe an annulment may be a better option, Hess Family Law can help you determine whether or not you have legal grounds for such a proceeding. 

Couples over 50 are twice as likely to get divorced as people of that age were twenty years ago.  A Bowling Green University study found that the divorce rate for people 50 and older doubled from 1990 to 2010.   This trend has been coined, “Grey Divorce”, referring to the demographic trend of an increasing divorce rate for older ("grey-haired") couples in long-lasting marriages.   Older divorcees must consider the consequences divorce may have on their retirement. Often couples over 50 have been married for twenty or more years and have substantial assets and debts between them.

A recent Washington Post article points out the unique financial issues couples face when divorcing during their retirement years. The author, Rodney Brooks commented, “divorce is not good for your retirement. That nest egg you worked so hard to accumulate must now be split and support two households instead of one.”  If one or both spouses are still working, retirement may not be feasible as early as they may have planned.   If already retired, retirement funds may be split leaving both parties unable to maintain their current lifestyle. 

Health benefits are another major concern.  Once divorced, the dependent spouse may no longer be covered on the other spouse’s plan leaving them to have to find alternate health insurance, sometimes at a high cost.    Another issue that often arises is that one spouse handled all of the financial issues during the marriage.  When a couple divorces, the less knowledgeable spouse is at a significant disadvantage.  According to Kathleen Grace, managing director at United Capital and author of Prince Not So Charming: A Romantic Tale of Financial Independence, “9 out of 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives.”  Because many women choose not to work while they raise children, this statistic is significant. 

Regardless of your age, if you are considering divorce, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced Family Law Attorney.   Hess Family Law can provide expert advice based on your particular situation and goals.

Friday, 08 April 2016 16:52

Divorce by Default

What happens if you file for divorce and properly serve the divorce papers on your spouse, but your spouse does not file a response with the Court within the required time allowed?  

You are not stuck, you can still proceed to get divorced in the State of Maryland.  You must file with the court a Request for An Order of Default, file an affidavit and proof stating that your spouse is not currenting serving in the armed forces.   The proof can be obtained by visting the Department of Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) website, and print out your search results.  Once the court issues the default you can then request a hearing for divorce and the process can proceed without your spouse.  What happens if your spouse suddenly decides to respond and participate?  The default is likely to be set aside and the case will proceed with both parties participating. The issues, especially custody and visitation, are so important that Judges don't like to proceed in divorce cases without hearing evidence from both spouses.  

There are many reasons why people do not initialy respond to the divorce papers.  Sometimes it is denial of the divorce, sometimes it is financial inability to hire a lawyer or figure out how to file without a lawyer, sometimes it is because a spouse is hoping that the matters can be resolved outside of court, with or without the use of an attorney or mediator.

People Magazine reports that although Gwenyth Paltrow filed for divorce on April 20, 2015 her husband, Chris Martin, did not file a response with the Court.  Ms. Paltrow now has the option to request that the court proceed on a default judgment.  In all likelihood this is a situation where Mr. Martin and/or Ms. Paltrow want to resolve their issues outside of court with their lawyers, mediators and business managers. 



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Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq
Hess Family Law
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Hess Family Law
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