Ms. Hess has been selected by her peers for inclusion in the 2014 Best Lawyers in America Publication. Best Lawyers is one of the leading referral guides in the legal profession. Ms. Hess will be listed in the Washington D.C. and the Baltimore's Best Lawyers special advertising supplement in the The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, and all local editions of The Wall Street Journal on Friday, September 27, 2013.
A new school year can be stressful for any family, but it can be especially stressful for a family when parents are newly separated or divorced. Questions may arise such as: Whom does the school call first if there is a problem? Who pays for school supplies? Do you need school supplies in both households? What activities will your child participate in? Some of the answers may be addressed by your Court Order or Agreement, but if you do not have one, or even if you do, there may not be clear answers.
Many experts agree that divorced or separated parents should be on the same page when it comes to their child’s school. The most important things parents should do are communicate, coordinate, and cooperate. For some this may be easy, but for others this can prove to be difficult, especially if your divorce was not amicable.
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.
Practical Advice for Successful Co-Parenting
Dr. Edward Farber, a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia and Maryland, and a partner at the Reston Psychological Center, recently published a book titled “Raising the Kid you Love with the Ex you Hate.” Based on his years of experience, Dr. Farber’s book offers practical advice for successful co-parenting. This book will tell you the why's and the how's of:
Both parents together telling the children about the separation and/or divorce.
Determining the right time for you and your spouse to inform the children about your separation and divorce. Over the weekend and in the early afternoon is a good time so that there can be several conversations throughout the day. A conversation at bedtime is not a good idea unless you want your child to be up all night.
Knowing what to say, and not to say, to your child about separation and divorce.
The importance of being honest with your child.
The importance of providing concrete information about how the separation will affect the child's daily and weekly routine, but not providing too many specifics that may overwhelm the child.
The how and when of introducing your child to your new residence, which should be done slowly and in stages.
Coping with child support and other money issues.
Handling the holidays and special family occasions .
Choosing and adjusting to new schools .
The when and how of introducing your child to a potential new partner.
Co-parenting when an ex has a personality disorder, addiction problem, or is a bully.
- Raising a healthy child while co-parenting.
I highly recommend this book to clients who have children and are contemplating or in the process of a separation or divorce. And, despite the title, I recommend this book for all clients, not just those in a high conflict divorce and co-parenting situation.
Governor Martin O’Malley recently made history when he appointed the first female chief justice to the Maryland Court of Appeals. Mary Ellen Barbera is not only the first female chief justice, but she is also the first chief justice from Montgomery County.
The Governor also appointed the first black woman, Judge Shirley Watts, to the Court of Appeals. If the Maryland Senate confirms these appointments, Maryland will be one of only eight states to have a female majority on the high court.
Ms. Geraldine Welikson Hess and Hess Family Law has a case pending in the Maryland Court of Appeals. The case is scheduled for oral argument during January 2014. All seven judges of the Court of Appeals hear oral arguments unless a Judge recuses him/herself from a case. Ms. Hess is likely to appear before Chief Judge Barbera and Judge Watts in January 2014.
Worried your Soon to Be Ex-Spouse is Hiding Income?
Dawn and Kevin have been married for fifteen years and recently separated. Kevin owns a business which he agrees is marital property. Despite the fact that the business thrived during the marriage, Kevin insists the business has been steadily declining. Dawn is skeptical and wonders if business is truly declining or if Kevin is hidding some of the business income. Dawn worries whether she will be able to prove the real value of Kevin’s business, and Kevin's real income.
Dawn understands that Maryland is an equitable distribution state (equitable does not always mean equal), but it is important that she and her attorney determine whether Kevin’s business is really declining or whether he is hiding income. In his article, Hunting For Hidden Cash in Divorce Proceedings, Ben Steverman discusses how a Los Angeles based forensic accountant, Mark Kohn, finds hidden money.
Typically, forensic accountants are hired in divorce cases to help an estranged spouse discover hidden business income. Often income is hidden in the form of fake business expenses. Other times business owners hide income by taking payments in cash and underreporting revenue. Although a spouse may report a certain salary to the IRS, their lifestyle may suggest a much higher income. It is important to look at a person’s lifestyle, both pre-separation and post-separation, when determining whether assets are being hidden. Is a spouse’s spending consistent with their reported income? Do they drive expensive vehicles, take high- end vacations and/or live in large expensive homes, but report an income too low to fund thos expenses? Kohn cites an example of a husband who reported income of $500,000 but was actually earning $2 million. The extra $1.5 million was hidden in phony business expenses, and the cash was used to fund personal expenses.
If a business owner hires various accountants to handle different aspects of their business and personal affairs, Kohn suggests that a spouse should see this as a red flag. It implies that their soon to be ex-spouse does not want to reveal their full finances to any one accountant. A business owner can include doctors, lawyers, accountants and restaurant owners.
At Hess Family Law, we will help you assess your situation and options if you think your spouse is hiding income.
Are you wondering where to view the fireworks this July 4th? If you are planning to be in Montgomery County, Maryland, you have several options.
The City of Rockville will be hosting it’s annual Fourth of July Celebration held at Montgomery College Rockville Campus, 51 Mannakee St. The festivities will begin at 7:00 p.m. with music and dancing. Fireworks are expected to begin at 9:15 p.m.
Fireworks will also be shown in Gaithersburg at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Gates will open at 5:00 p.m. with entertainment beginning at 5:30 p.m. If you go, you can expect live music, strolling entertainers, and family friendly games and activities. Fireworks are scheduled to begin at dusk. If it rains, the City of Gaithersburg plans to hold the festivities on Friday July 5th.
Germantown Glory will host it’s July 4th celebration at the South Germantown Recreational Park beginning at 7:00 p.m. Fireworks are scheduled for 9:15 p.m. July 4th festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. at the annual Mid-County Sparkles July 4th celebration held at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland. Fireworks are scheduled to begin at 9:15 p.m. Both locations plan a rain date on July 5th.
You should be aware that in Montgomery County it is illegal to possess or discharge fireworks, including gold label sparkers. You can have snap-and-pop noise makers, snakes and party poppers, but those are the only exceptions. It does not matter if you purchased the fireworks in another county or another state, they are still illegal in Montgomery County. Private fireworks displays are illegal, however, if you plan ahead and obtain the proper permits and licenses you can host a public fireworks display. See What's Legal and What's Not for more fireworks information.
Hess Family Law wishes you a fun filled and safe July 4th!
Couples who do not have Substantial Pre-Marital Assets can Benefit from a Prenuptial Agreement.
Most people believe prenuptial agreements are only for the wealthy. However, even couples who do not have substantial pre-marital assets can benefit from a prenuptial agreement. Jason Marks posted an article on Huffington Post, Prenups: Not Just for the Wealthy, where he outlines reasons couples should consider a prenuptial agreement.
1. Protect Future Earnings: A well drafted agreement can protect future earnings of a spouse’s business should the marriage fail.
2. Avoid Future Debts: A prenuptial agreement can address the parties’ respective liabilities and ensure that the debts of one party do not become the responsibility of the other.
3. Provide for Children from a Previous Marriage: Because spouses have certain rights to IRA accounts, life insurance policies and other assets, a prenuptial agreement can provide that these assets be left to the children, rather than to the spouse.
At Hess Family Law we believe that there are additional reasons couples should consider having a prenuptial agreement. Should the parties decide to separate, an artfully drafted prenuptial agreement can address who will move out, the conditions of the move, and the timing of the move. Such a provision will protect the party wanting a divorce so he/she will not be hindered by the other party refusing to separate. If the parties decide to use one party’s non-marital residence as their marital home but the intent is for the home to remain non-marital property, an agreement can state that any payments made by the other party toward the mortgage, maintenance, and/or improvement of the property will be considered a gift and not cause the property to become partly marital.
At Hess Family Law we can help you determine whether a prenuptial agreement is right for you, and if so, we can draft an agreement that will protect you and your assets should your marriage end in divorce.
Summer Vacation Tips for Separated or Divorced Parents
Summer vacation is about to begin in Montgomery County, Maryland which means school time schedules are about to change. How does summer effect separated or divorced families? For many, summer vacation means added stress in trying to modify schedules to adjust to camp, vacations, and less structure.
Here are some tips to make adjusting to a summer schedule easier for you and your children:
- If you have a Parenting Plan, review it. Does anything need to bemodified? Make sure vacations and camp schedules do not conflict with parenting times, and if they do, try to work out a compromise in advance. Do you need additional child care? If so, make sure you and your former spouse have discussed options and made arrangements.
- Try to maintain some consistency. While rules may be more relaxed in the summer, it is helpful for children to have similar rules in both households. Discuss expectations with your spouse or former spouse to try and maintain comparable rules in both homes.
- If you are planning to travel with your children, make sure you are prepared. Review your Agreement to make sure there are no restrictions on traveling with your children. Do you need to provide your former spouse with details about your trip? Even if your Agreement or Order does not provide for this, it is common courtesy to provide the non-traveling parent with an itinerary of the trip. Will your children be able to communicate with their other parent while they are away? Make sure their other parent has all necessary contact information. If passports are needed, make sure they are in order and the other parent has provided permission for the children to travel out of the country, if necessary.
- Have a realistic financial budget. Now that you are separated or divorced your financial situation may not allow you to take a big summer vacation. Even if the other parent can still afford a fancy trip, it does not mean you have to do the same. There are many local activities that you and your children can enjoy. Instead of a week long stay at the beach, you can go for a long weekend. Plan a day trip to an amusement park or plan to try several different parks during the summer. Take advantage of the museums, monuments, and other free or nearly free, activities DC has to offer. Check Groupon or Living Social for fun summer deals on activities for you and your children. With a little planning you and your children can have a terrific summer without spending a fortune.
If you follow these tips your summer should be less stressful and more enjoyable. If you find that you and your spouse are having difficulty agreeing on summer plans, Hess Family Law is happy to assist you in resolving your dispute.
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.