Texting is a great way to stay in touch with your spouse, ex-spouse and/or your kids, especially if you are separated or divorced. In some cases, parties that are separated or divorced have difficulty communicating. Anger, stress, and frustration can cause parties to dread phone or face-to-face communication. By sending short text messages, parties can communicate efficiently without having to engage in lengthy conversations. However, you should be mindful that unlike phone conversations, there is a record of your text message conversations and just like emails; text messages can end up in the courtroom during your divorce or custody dispute.
How common is this? According to a survey by the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers® (AAML), 94% of the respondents cited an overall rise in the use of text messages as evidence during a trial. In fact, text messages were the most common forms of evidence taken from smart phones holding the top spot at 62%, e-mails follow at 23%, phone numbers and call histories at 13%, with GPS and Internet search histories each sharing 1%. Why the increase in text messages as evidence in divorce and/or custody cases? Unlike phone conversations, text messages are a written record of a dialogue between spouses, ex-spouses or children. They can be used to highlight problems such as parenting issues, irresponsible behavior, and even contradict sworn testimony.
If text messages may end up in Court, what are your options? As I discussed in Technology Makes Communication Easier, if you cannot verbally communicate, it is better to use email and/or text messaging then to not communicate at all. But, never send an email or text message in the heat of an argument. And, never send an email or text message that you would not want a Judge to read. While technology has its drawbacks, if used properly, it can make managing two households a lot easier.
Although some believe that shared custody arrangements expose children to additional stress due to constantly moving from house to house, a Swedish study indicates that the potential stress from living in two homes is outweighed by the positive effects of close contact with both parents. Despite the hassles of living in two homes, most children in the survey stated that a close relationship with both their parents was most important.
The study, Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children? published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that kids fare better when they spend equal living time with both parents. The study compared children in joint physical custody arrangements, with those living only or mostly with one parent and those living in nuclear families. Based on a national survey of nearly 150,000 Swedish children aged 12 and 15 years, the study found that children who live equally with both parents after a parental separation suffered from less psychosomatic problems such as sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy than those living mostly or only with one parent. However, children in joint custody arrangements still reported more psychosomatic problems than those in non-separated or divorced nuclear families.
For more information on Child Custody, please click here.
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
Ms. Hess has again been selected to the Maryland Super Lawyers list that can be found in the Maryland 2016 edition of Super Lawyers Magazine. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Ms. Hess has received the honor of appearing on the Super Lawyers list since 2009.
We wish everyone a happy and healthy 2016!
If your New Years Eve celebration includes drinking please do not drive. Plan ahead and have a designated driver or another plan for getting to your destinations safely. If you find yourself in need of a ride, please use a taxi, uber, call a friend, or use a free local ride service.
SoberRide 1-800-200-8294 offers free rides not to exceed $30 fare originating from Montgomery County, Maryland; Fairfax, Virigina, and other locations to riders age 21 or older. The service operates from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
For the newly separated or divorced, the demands of the holiday season can quickly take a toll on your mental and physical well being. You likely have your own feelings of stress, anger, fear, and loss that can make it even more difficult for you and your children to maintain joy during the holidays. Surviving the holidays may be hard, but not impossible.
For ideas and tips on coping with the holidays during and after divorce read Hess Family Law Blogs: Tips for the Holiday Season and Surviving the Holidays Part 3: Christmas, Chanukah, and More.
- 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.
Governor Larry Hogan has appointed Judge Michele Hotten to the Maryland Court of Appeals. Judge Hotten currently sits on the Court of Special Appeals, and will fill the vacancy on the Court of Appeals created when Judge Glenn Harrell Jr. reached mandatory retirement age this past June. Judge Hotten has been a judge for the past 21 years. In addition to serving on the Court of Special Appeals, she has served on the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County and the District Court for Prince George’s County.
Judge Hotten joins Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera along with five other judges who hear cases almost exclusively by certiorari, a process that gives the court discretion to decide which cases to hear. The Court of Appeals is mandated by law to hear cases involving the death penalty, legislative redistricting, removal of certain officers, and certifications of questions of law.
Nancy and Bill are getting divorced. They have no children but they do have a Golden Doodle, Alfie that they purchased together after they were married. Nancy and Bill think of Alfie as their child, and they both want Alfie to live with them. Nancy wonders if she can file a Motion for Custody of the family pet.
Under Maryland law, Nancy cannot file a Motion for Custody. Alfie is not considered by law to be a child, or child-like even though Nancy and Bill think of Alfie as their child. In Maryland, a pet is considered tangible personal property. If the pet was purchased during the marriage, using marital funds, as Alfie was, then the pet is marital personal property. Nancy and Bill must either reach an agreement regarding Alfie, or Alfie may be sold like all of the other personal property they own together.
Nancy Kay, in her article “ Who Keeps the Family Dog”, suggests 5 things divorcing spouses like Nancy and Bill should consider when deciding who shall keep the family pet:
1. Who has a flexible work schedule or access to a reliable person who can fill in for them to care properly for the pet while they are at work.
2. Who has the financial means to provide for the pet throughout the expected length of the pet's life span?
3. Who has the majority of parenting time with the children who are attached to the family pet?
4. Has either of you neglected the pet's basic needs or acted abusively toward the pet?
5. Who will have more space for the dog to exercise and play following divorce?
Some States are enacting legislation that allows judges to decide custody of the family pet using the “best interest” doctrine just as they do when deciding custody of children, or determining that the pet should go with the children. We will see what changes, if any, develop in Maryland over the next few years.
Spring Break begins March 30th in Fairfax County, Virginia and April 3rd in Montgomery County, Maryland. If you have opted to remain home this Spring Break there are many opportunities to have fun with your children right in our area. Jamie Davis Smith’s Huffington Post article, Passport to Spring Break Fun, outlines great activities for you and your children in the DC metropolitan area. Ms. Smith’s idea of creating a passport to DC with your children will help you plan activities and will get them excited about the week even if you aren’t leaving home. If you are unsure where to start, Ms. Smith recommends looking at Our-Kids.com, which offers hundreds of suggestions on current local area activities. I have personally been a subscriber to Our-Kids for many years, and have used and continue to use the site to find interesting events and activities for my children, and I wholeheartedly second Ms. Smith’s recommendation.
If your children are interested in the arts, see a play at Imagination Stage or Adventure Theater-MTC, or visit an art museum such as the National Gallery of Art. Plan to visit the Zoo, the Air and Space Museum, and/or the Museum of Natural History. Other museums you may want to add to your passport include the National Building Museum and The College Park Aviation Museum. The Cherry Blossoms are expected to be in full bloom during Spring Break this year. Plan a trip downtown, or if you prefer to avoid the crowds, take a ride thru many of our area neighborhoods. Consider day trips to Baltimore, Gettysburg, or a hike thru Great Falls. Remember to take lots of photos and consider sharing them with your former spouse.
For more ideas on things to do in Montgomery County, Maryland check out visitmontgomery, for Fairfax Couny, Virginia check out Fairfax Family Fun. For example, the carousel at Rio Washingtonian opened March 14th, Zip Lining at Go Ape and Adventure Park at Sandy Spring have opened for the season, Butler’s Orchard Bunnyland runs through April 12th. Head to our local parks including Clemyjontri Park on a nice weather day. Don’t feel you have to attend expensive activities, there are plenty of fun and free or low cost activities that can be found.
With so many wonderful opportunities in our area you will be able to have a memorable Spring Break without leaving home and your passport will be filled in no time.