Divorce filings rise in the month of January because couples tend to wait until after the holidays to separate. James McLaren, past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers commented that in the month of January “we see a significant increase in people seeking out divorce advice and, ultimately, filing. The number of filings is one-third more than normal.” Similar trends are seen in the U.K.: 1 in 5 couples plan to divorce after the holidays, according to a recent survey of 2,000 spouses by legal firm Irwin Mitchell. The survey also found that instructions to lawyers to file for divorce are also up 27% so far this month compared with an average month.
Many theorize that the rise in filings at the beginning of the year is due to couples not wanting to dampen the holidays with news of a divorce. Those hoping for an amicable resolution once the divorce proceedings are filed may consider whether their spouse will be so eager to settle if the holidays are marred by a separation and talk of divorce. Additionally, there may be concern that a disgruntled spouse could use the divorce as an excuse to spend more on gifts then he/she otherwise would have spent. While running up credit cards and draining bank accounts can happen at anytime of the year, a spouse may be less likely to do so after the holidays.
Waiting until after the craziness of the holidays has passed gives parties more time to plan and prepare. In order for an attorney to have a clear understanding of income, assets, and expenses parties will need to begin collecting financial documents. End of the year statements are an important piece to the financial picture. Many of these documents are not available until the end of December or the beginning of January.
If you are considering divorce, Hess Family Law can provide advice based on your particular situation and goals.
Source: Reuters, Considering divorce? Good reasons to wait for January, Geoff Williams, December 4, 2015
Marketwatch.com, Why January is a popular month to file for divorce, Quentin Fottrell, January 6, 2015
- Not have any minor children in common;
- Submit a written settlement agreement to the Court, signed by both parties that resolves all issues of support, and property;
- Neither party may seek to set aside the written settlement agreement before the divorce hearing and
- Both parties appear at the divorce hearing.
- A limited divorce can now be granted on the grounds of a separation. The separation no longer has to be voluntary on the part of both parties, and there no longer has to be no reasonable hope or expectation of a reconcilation.
- The residency requirement for divorce grounds occuring outside the State of Maryland have been reduced. A party may file for divorce after having resided in Maryland for at least 6 months before filing. The residency requirement used to be a year.
There is no question that going through a divorce is difficult. Not only do you have financial and emotional issues to deal with but the social pressures and anxiety of telling friends and family can feel overwhelming. Many times people want to forget what is happening in their own lives and are all too happy to focus on someone else’s life. So, what should you do you when you are asked intrusive, meddling, upsetting, or offensive questions? Or better yet, what shouldn’t you do?
You filed your Complaint for Limited or Absolute Divorce and received a Writ of Summons from the Court. Now what do you do?
Typically an opposing party is served by delivering to them a copy of the summons, complaint, and all other papers filed with it. Your spouse can be served at home, work, or anywhere they happen to be. You can request that the sheriff’s department serve the papers for a fee, hire a private process server, or you can have anyone over the age of 18 serve the papers. If your spouse isn't home but resides with a family member the papers can be left with a person who lives with your spouse as long as that person is over the age of 18. Another method you may use is mailing the papers certified mail requesting: "Restricted Delivery”. In order for service to be complete, your spouse must sign the receipt (green card) which is then returned to the sender. In either scenario, you cannot be the one to serve your spouse. Once service has been made, an affidavit of service must be filed with the Court. If you do not file an affidavit of service, the Court will not know that your spouse has been notified of the proceedings. If your spouse fails to respond to your Complaint, and you have not advised the Court that you obtained service, you will not be able to proceed. See Maryland Rule 2-121(a)
Divorce Tips to Keep you on the Right Track
Newly separated people are often overwhelmed with anger, sadness, and the complexity of the issues in their divorce case that they make mistakes. A recent article by Michelle Rozen, The 5 Worst Mistakes People Make During Divorce, lists these mistakes and tips that may help you make the right decisions and keep you on track during your divorce.
1. Be Informed: The biggest mistake people often make is not knowing all of the facts. You cannot make informed decisions if you do not understand your rights and options. A good way to learn your rights and options is to consult with a family law attorney. Many times parties shy away from an initial consult because they falsely believe that this will commit them to the divorce process. Learning about the process upfront before things have progressed will help you avoid costly mistakes down the road.
2. Be Aware of What is Happening in your Case: You need to need to make informed decisions with your attorney. Do not let others make decisions on your behalf because you are not in a position to face the issues. At Hess Family Law, we suggest that you have regular contact with your attorney, and that you open mail received from your lawyer in a timely manner. Another way to stay informed is to check the court computer for any upcoming court dates.
3. Never Act out of Anger: It is very easy for a disgruntled spouse to have revenge on their agenda. But acting out of anger will not always get you the results you desire and may cost both of you in the long run. It is better to keep drama to a minimum and focus on the facts. If you are finding it difficult to handle your emotions, seek the assistance of a therapist. Don’t use the courtroom to deal with those emotions.
4. Don’t Settle for Less than You Need or Deserve: Make sure you understand as best you can what your expenses will be post divorce. Try not to settle for less than you need or agree to pay more than you can afford. A good attorney can assist you in negotiating a settlement that is fair and reasonable, and if negotiations fail, your will be better prepared for trial.
5. Don’t Lose Yourself: If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed take a moment to breath. Surround yourself with experts, such as a family law attorney, therapist, and a financial planner, that can help guide your through the divorce process. With a bit of planning you can make good decisions, no matter how bad things may look.
For more divorce tips to keep you on the right track read "Don't Make These "Biggest Mistakes" in the Resources Section of the Hess Family Law Website.
Did You Know? Getting Over A Divorce Can Take Time, A Long Time.
At Hess Family Law we get to see people going through one of their most difficult and trying times in their lives, a divorce or other family law disputes. In addition to experiencing emotional turmoil and mourning their lost relationship, divorcing persons also have the additional stressor of having to navigate the legal process.
There is a healing process. And it takes time. How much time? Elizabeth Bernstein in her article “After Divorce or Job Loss Comes the Good Identity Crisis” points out that experts say most people need two years to recover from a separation or divorce.
You need time to recover from the grief of your lost relationship. You need time to restructure and rebuild your life. Know that it is okay to not be okay, for a while.
Here at Hess Family Law we are aware that each client has different abilities and limitations as they go through the healing process. We approach each client as an individual, and assist each client through the legal process in a manner each client can effectively handle.
What to Expect at Your Montgomery County, Maryland Family Law Scheduling Conference
Janet has filed her Complaint for Divorce, Custody, Alimony, Child Support and Property Division, and wonders what will happen next? Her Husband, Peter, will need to be served with the papers by someone other than Janet who is over 18 years of age. Once Peter is served, he will have a certain period of time to file an Answer to the Complaint, as well as a Counter-Complaint. A Scheduling Conference is set by the Court when an Answer or an Affidavit of Service is filed.
The Scheduling Conference may be the first of many court dates which Janet and Peter will have before the trial date on their family law case. The Scheduling Conference is the Court’s way to begin tracking their divorce, property, custody and/or child support case, and to schedule the steps in their case’s development.
Typically, a Master will conduct the Scheduling Conference. At the Scheduling Conference, the Master may order Janet and Peter to participate in one or more programs offered by or through the Circuit Court. The Scheduling Conference provides opportunities for Janet and Peter to settle their case without having a fully contested trial.
What Services Might Be Ordered at the Scheduling Conference?
Co-Parenting Skills Enhancement will be ordered, where appropriate, for parties involved in family litigation. The litigants will choose two sessions for attendance at a reasonably convenient time within the framework specified by the Court. The goals of Co-Parenting Skills Enhancement sessions include the education of parents and the provision of necessary tools to remove the children from the adult conflict, in order to encourage a healthy adjustment for children whose parents no longer live together.
Custody/Visitation Mediation will be offered throughout the course of the family contact with the Court. Initially, the parties will be ordered to attend two custody mediation sessions. The goal of mediation is to develop an agreement for the care and custody of the children, or to create a visitation plan, if this is an area of controversy. An agreement reached through mediation may be incorporated into an Order issued by the Court. Mediation sessions are confidential. Parties attend custody mediation without counsel. However, it is important to meet with your attorney prior to mediation so you are prepared to reach a reasonable resolution.
Child Custody Assessments are limited assessments made by the Office of Court Evaluators. The Court may order the parties to meet with the Court Evaluator to obtain background information, review the concerns of each parent, assess the needs of the child(ren) and determine the extent to which the child(ren) have been involved in the conflict. This assessment usually involves four sessions. The parents are encouraged to note areas of agreement such as those related to visitation schedules, holidays, and decision-making with regard to medical and educational preferences. The Evaluator will present an oral review at a conference with the Master, parties and counsel, presenting any agreement reached, outlining areas of disagreement, and making recommendations as to the best interests of the child(ren).
Custody/Visitation Evaluation is a more in depth evaluation of the conflicted family requiring home visits, school reports, submission of therapy/medical reports and collateral contacts in the community. The need for the more extensive evaluation may develop from the Custody Assessment or may be ordered by the Judge or Master in lieu of the Assessment, based upon known circumstances. An Order might also be entered directing the parties to contract for psychological testing as an aid in determining the best interests of the child(ren).
Facilitators are practicing attorneys who offer immediate mediation to litigants from the Master’s hearing room. Facilitators are chosen from a list of experienced counsel approved by the County Administrative Judge and the Family Division Masters.
When you appear for your Scheduling Conference, if you have a disagreement about pendente lite issues (i.e., issues you would like resolved at least temporarily until the day of your trial) the Master may ask you to meet with a facilitator that same day in the courthouse. The facilitator will give you practical advice concerning what you may expect if your case goes to trial. He or she will help you reach a settlement the day of your Scheduling Conference.
If you reach an agreement on pendente lite or other issues, you may be able to avoid the time and expense of returning to court for a pendente lite or other hearing. Any agreement you reach with the help of a Facilitator can be incorporated into an enforceable court Order.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is available to parties to settle property issues. ADR is conducted by practicing attorneys with substantial expertise in the domestic field. Selection of the ADR mediator is from an approved list designated by the County Administrative Judge and maintained by the Differentiated Case Manager. Parties attend ADR with counsel.
Best Interest Attorney may be appointed by the Court to specifically represent the best interests of the child(ren) of the parties. In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Child Privilege Attorney may be appointed as a neutral guardian to act for a child in waiving or asserting the psychiatrist-patient privilege. This type of appointment is frequently referred to as a Nagle v. Hooks appointment and derives its name from the Maryland case requiring this representation to protect the child’s best interests. In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Psychological Evaluations are conducted by private practitioners in the community and the expense of the testing and evaluation is borne by the parties. Participation may be ordered by the Court upon motion of the opposing party or upon recommendation of the staff of the Office of Court Evaluations. Psychological evaluations may be sought when it becomes apparent during the Custody Assessment that the Court will benefit from the more in-depth Custody/Visitation Evaluation with psychological testing as an adjunct to arriving at a decision in the best interests of the child(ren). In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Psychological Evaluations and/or Therapy may be ordered by the Court during the pendency of a case when there is a demonstrated immediate and significant concern. Ongoing therapy may be ordered as part of the ultimate decision in a contested custody/visitation case. In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Psychological/Custody Evaluations are conducted by privately retained psychologists (or psychiatrists) who conduct relevant testing to assist in determination of custody issues in the best interests of the child(ren). Referrals may be made during initial case proceedings or with regard to a change of custody or modification of visitation issues. In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Private Custody Evaluations may be permitted by the Court under certain circumstances. If the parties demonstrate a need, a qualified private practitioner, possessing at least the designation of LCSW (Licensed Certified Social Worker), may be permitted to provide a suitable custody evaluation. In most cases, the cost of this representation will be borne by the litigants.
Drug and Alcohol Testing or the Urine Monitoring Program is available when an allegation of substance abuse arises or may be requested as part of a Custody/Visitation Evaluation. A one time testing or referral for twice weekly monitoring can be ordered, by consent, and counsel or the parties will be notified of all results.
What are the Different Tracks a Case Can be Assigned?
Track 0 is the fast track for uncontested cases. In this track the complaint is filed simultaneously with an Answer, Joint Request to Schedule an Uncontested Divorce Hearing, and Child Support Guidelines, where appropriate.
The Family Department Screener/Clerk reviews the pleadings and dockets the case. The computer automatically schedules the case for a 10-minute or 30-minute hearing. The length of the hearing is dependent upon whether all items are checked on the Joint Hearing Request.
All Family Law cases in which a summons is issued begin as Track 1. The track designation will be confirmed or changed at the Scheduling Conference.
The Family Division Master conducts the Scheduling Hearing, confirms or changes track, and if the case remains Track 1, sets the case for an Uncontested Divorce Hearing.
Track 2 cases are those that have no contested physical custody issues. They are cases involving any or all of the following issues: visitation, legal custody, alimony, child support, earnings withholding, limited property, pension, costs, attorney fees, and divorce.
Track 3 cases involve physical custody and any or all of the following issues: visitation, alimony, child support, earnings withholding, property, pension, costs and attorney fees, divorce. In a Track 3 case, a custody hearing will be held prior to a hearing on all other issues.
Track 4 cases are those cases that have complex issues such as extensive property holdings, complicated business valuations, significant assets held in various forms, pensions, alimony and other support issues, as well as custody, visitation and divorce. Track 4 cases are assigned to a Family Division Judge who will conduct all hearings and consider additional services and/or changes or adjustments in timing of events through the completion of the case.
Guidelines to Managing Your Divorce
A new client recently came to Hess Family Law seeking advice regarding her separation and divorce. The breakup of her marriage turned her world upside down and was compounded by stress, depression, and pain. She wondered how she would ever manage to get through the divorce process and cope with her new reality.
At Hess Family Law, not only will we discuss the legal aspects of your family law matter, but from the very first meeting, we will talk to you about your goals and what you want your life to be like after your divorce has concluded. Throughout our representation we will revisit your goals and discuss whether they remain the same or if they have changed.
Leo Averbach posted on Huffington Post, How to Manage Your Divorce: Six Guidelines. They are as follows:
1. Take one step at a time;
2. Don’t hold onto the past, learn from it;
3. View divorce as a process, with distinct stages: Shock/denial; Rage; Anger; Sorrow/depression; Acceptance; Growth and emergence.
4. Know what you want and make it clear;
5. See the calamity as an opportunity;
6. Build a new life.
At Hess Family Law we will assist you in understanding and following these guidelines. By doing so, together we can make the divorce process easier to manage.
Tips for Testifying in Court
For many, a divorce hearing is the first time they step into a courtroom. Like anything in life, it is important to be prepared. It is normal to be nervous before testifying, but with these tips, you can ease your fears and testify like a pro.
- Dress for the occasion. Wear clothing that shows respect for the Judge. Clothing you would wear to church or synagogue is appropriate. Work out clothing, provocative clothing, or sloppy dress, is not. Try to avoid wearing jeans if you have other options.
- Review your testimony with your attorney. It is okay to practice what you are going to say. Practicing eases your nerves and allows you to think about your answers.
- Anticipate what the opposing lawyer will ask you. Try to predict cross-examination questions with your attorney. If you are worried about being asked about a topic or specific question, it is okay to discuss and formulate a response in advance with your attorney.
- Listen to the questions being asked. If you do not understand a question or do not hear the question, ask for clarification or for the question to be repeated.
- Only answer the question being asked. You do not have to volunteer information.
- Do not get rattled by opposing counsel. Do not argue or raise your voice. Oftentimes opposing counsel is trying to get you to react in an angry, aggressive, or controlling manner; you need to stay calm. It is okay to be emotional but not overly emotional. Remember to be respectful of the Judge and his/her Courtroom.
- Do not ramble when answering a question. This is where practicing helps. Give short concise answers, especially on cross-examination.
- Always tell the truth even if you think it will hurt you. If you lie or mislead the court and it is brought out on cross-examination your credibility will be damaged. It is better to tell the truth even if it is not flattering then to have opposing counsel discredit you.
- When testifying, try to avoid using absolute words such as always and never, as these words can discredit your testimony. Rarely is there an occasion where something always or never occurs.
- Avoid using phrases such as “I would not lie to you” or “Honestly”. All of your testimony should be honest.
- Tone is important. Do not be confrontational or hostile.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. While in the shower, looking in the mirror, driving in your car, practice your answers to the tough questions. With practice you will learn to say what is important in a succinct manner.
- Try not to look up at the sky when you are answering questions. If you would rather not look at the attorney asking you questions then pick a spot on the wall and look at that spot. If you can, occasional eye contact with the Judge is nice.
- If an attorney states an objection, stop speaking immediately. The Judge needs to rule on the objection. If the objection is sustained you cannot continue your answer. If the objection is overruled you can continue your answer. As long as you stop speaking the Judge can do his/her job. If you are unsure if the Judge’s ruling means you can answer or not, don’t worry because the Judge or questioning attorney will let you know if it is okay to continue with your answer.
- When you are a party in a court case you are in the courtroom for the entire proceeding, not just your testimony. It is important that you present well in the courtroom even when you are not testifying. The Judge is always looking around the courtroom and observing what you are doing.
Here are some tips for your behavior when others are speaking or testifying, especially your spouse:
- Do not shake your head vigorously in agreement or disagreement of the testimony. Do not sigh loudly, do not speak out, do not jump out of your seat, do not raise your arms in the air, or otherwise call attention to yourself.
- Do not talk to your attorney. Your attorney must pay attention to the testimony so he/she can object and determine what questions to ask on cross-examination. Your attorney cannot do his/her job and listen to you at the same time. Keep a pad and pen and write notes to your attorney. Write calmly and not furiously; you need to show that you are in control of yourself.
- Sit respectfully in your chair.
- Do not chew gum, eat, or drink beverages other than water in the courtroom.
Courtrooms are open to the public. You can go to the courthouse and observe a trial, and observe the Judge scheduled to hear your trial, before your court date.
Letting go of Emotions and Dealing with Negative Emotions During a Divorce
It is hard to let go of emotions during a divorce, especially if you did not choose to leave the marriage and do not want to be divorced. Cathy Meyer's article explains the importance of letting go of emotions so that you can protect your legal rights and build new dreams and a new future for yourself.
Ms. Myer's tips include:
1. Focus not on your spouse's prior bad acts, but on the here and now so that you can protect your interests in the here and now.
2. Be angry, be resentful, but don't stay that way. If you remain angry you may wind up focusing on how to punish your spouse in the divorce process rather than protecting your future.
3. You should be assertive and stand up for your rights during the divorce process, but do so kindly and gently, if possible. You benefit from a divorce and parting relationship that has less conflict and leaves you with more self-respect. Remember, this was someone that once was, and may still be, important to you.
You can find Ms. Meyer's article here: http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/thedivorceprocess/ss/divorceprocess.htm