The questions below are divided by topic.  Please click on each question to bring up the answer.

Family Law

Is there a waiting period before the divorce is final?

While, certain grounds for divorce require a period of time when the parties must be continuously separated, a divorce is not final until Thirty (30) days after a Judgment of Divorce is entered into the record of the case.

What about the kids?

In a custody and/or divorce case involving children, the Court has broad powers and discretion concerning the children.  All decisions made by the Court concerning children must be determined to be in the children’s best interest.  The following are the most common decision which can be made by the Court concerning children:

  1. Legal custody
  2. Residential custody
  3. Access/Visitation
  4. Child Support
  5. Use and possession of family use personal property
  6. Use and possession of family home
  7. Guardianship
  8. Temporary guardianship
  9. Adoption

How will our property be divided?

Maryland is an equitable division state.  The Maryland Court:

  1. Determines what property constitutes marital property.
  2. Determines the value of the marital property.
  3. Determines the equitable distribution of the marital property.
  4. Grants a monetary award, if necessary, to effectuate the equitable division of the marital property.

When considering the distribution of Marital Property in Maryland, the court considers the following factors:

  1. Monetary and Non-monetary Contributions;
  2. Value of the Property and the Economic Circumstances;
  3. Circumstances Contributing to Estrangement;
  4. Age and Physical and Mental Condition of the Parties;
  5. How and When Specific Marital Property was Obtained, Including Contribution by Either Party in Tenants by the Entireties Real Estate;
  6. Award of Alimony;
  7. Other Factors, including Potential Tax Consequences

The Factors The Maryland Courts Must Use To Determine Monetary Award:

  1. The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family.
  2. The value of all property interests of each party.
  3. The economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made.
  4. The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.
  5. The duration of the marriage.
  6. The age of each party.
  7. The physical and mental condition of each party.
  8. How and when specific marital property or interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, was acquired, including the effort expended by each party in accumulating the marital property or the interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, or both.
  9. The contribution by either party of the acquisition of real property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety.
  10. Any award of alimony and any award or other provision that the court has made with respect to family use personal property or the family home.
  11. Any other factor that the court considers necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award or transfer of an interest in the pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, or both.

What will happen in Court?

What you can expect will happen in Court is dependent upon the nature of the dispute and the complexity and number of issues which are to be resolved by a trial Judge.  If your case is uncontested or you have resolved all the issues arising from your marriage by Agreement, then you can expect to be divorced after a brief evidentiary hearing.  If there are a number of issues such as custody, access, alimony, and the valuation and division of marital property, then the evidentiary hearing may be far more complicated and lengthy and will require your testimony as well as the presentation of other corroborating evidence to provide the Court with a sufficient evidentiary basis to resolve the matter at issue.

How do I get a Court Hearing?

You must file a pleading or complaint requesting some affirmative relief (custody, access/visitation, child support, divorce, alimony, etc.), and properly serve that pleading or complaint on the opposing party, before a hearing will be scheduled with the Court.

Can I be Divorced without a Court hearing?

No.  An evidentiary hearing is conducted by the Court before this Court can grant a divorce.  This is true regardless of whether your case is contested or uncontested.

Must I have my spouse’s cooperation?

Cooperation between spouses can certainly expedite the divorce process as well as reduce the overall costs associated with the divorce.  However, cooperation between spouses is not necessary to file for divorce and/or to proceed with a divorce.  It is often the case that a divorce may initially be contested but becomes amicable and later becomes uncontested.

What grounds do I need?

A divorce in Maryland may be granted on one of the following grounds:

  1. Adultery
  2. Cruelty/Excessively Vicious Conduct
  3. Desertion
  4. Constructive Desertion
  5. Separation exceeding 12 months in duration.
  6. Insanity
  7. Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor

Is there a residency requirement to get divorced in Maryland?

Yes.  A least one spouse must be a Maryland resident in order to obtain a divorce in Maryland.  Maryland residency is established after one spouse has resided in Maryland for at least one year prior to any request for divorce is filed.

How do I decide if I need a lawyer?

Anyone contemplating divorce should obtain the advice of a competent and experienced domestic relations attorney.  Divorce is complicated and everyone should be aware of his/her entitlements and/or risks when contemplating divorce.  It is often the case that a spouse may believe that his/her issues are “easy” or that there are no real issues.  However, the truth of that matter is that even cases which are amicably resolved require the guidance and input of an experienced lawyer.

Criminal Law

How drunk or high does someone have to be before he can be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI)?

It is illegal for a person to drive a car while they are under the effect of drugs (even prescription drugs) and/or alcohol to the point that they cannot think clearly, and/or drive safely.

A person with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above is guilty of driving under the influence (DUI). A person with a blood alcohol content of between .04% and .05% or above is guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI).

If the driver is 21 years old, or younger, that person is guilty of driving under the influence if their blood alcohol level is .02%

How can the police find out whether a driver is under the influence or intoxicated?

The police can observe the driver, witness erratic driving, pull the driver over and ask the driver questions about their condition and to perform several field sobriety tests. The officer can also ask the driver to perform a preliminary breath test (results of which are not admissible in court). Depending on the results of these tests, the officer will charge the person with either DUI, or DWI or both.

Do I have to take a breathalyzer, blood test, or urine test if I am stopped for DUI or DWI?

You do not have to take a breathalyzer, blood test or urine test if you are stopped for DUI or DWI, however the answer to this question depends on your particular circumstances.

Specifically, if you have no prior convictions for  alcohol related driving offenses, it may be wise to take the test.

If you have had convictions for prior alcohol related driving offenses, this question becomes more complicated, and it is important for you to consult with an attorney.

It is important for either driver, without priors or with priors,  to be aware of the fact that in Maryland we have an “implied consent” law that says if you do refuse to take the test, your Maryland driver’s license may be suspended for a period of time.

If I’m stopping for driving under the influence, am I entitled to talk to an attorney before I decide whether to take a breath, blood, or urine test?

In Maryland a person who is asked to provide a breath test in an effort to determine is that individual is under the influence, or intoxicated, is entitled to speak with an attorney before deciding to submit to the test, as long as doing so does not interfere with the test being taken relatively soon after the stop.

If I’m stopped for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), can a police officer ask me questions without reading me my rights?

A police officer is obligated to read you your rights. Miranda rights protect you from making any statements, in response to questions from the officer,  that could be used against you in Court. If you have not been read your rights, this is something that will be relevant to any trial that follows. Your counsel should make all efforts necessary to block all use of any such statements by the prosecution.

I’ve been charged with drunk driving/driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated. Should I get a lawyer?

Yes, if you are charged with any alcohol or drug related driving offense, you should be represented by counsel. These types of charges vary in severity depending on many circumstances. No matter the level of severity, and an attorney will be vital in fighting these allegations, all of which include potential sentences of jail- time.

I was pulled over at a DUI/DWI roadblock and asked to wait and answer a police officer’s questions. Is this legal?

If you are pulled over at DUI/DWI roadblock, it is a legal stop as long as the police are using a plan that is neutral (such as pulling over all cars that come through the roadblock, not just the cars driven by women) and the police officers minimize the inconvenience to you, and the other drivers.

Is possession of marijuana a felony or misdemeanor?

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor in Maryland.

Is possession of cocaine a felony?

Possession of cocaine is either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon the quantity/weight of the cocaine

Is possession of heroin a felony?

Possession of heroin is a misdemeanor in Maryland, carrying the potential of up to 4 years’ incarceration upon conviction.

Is possession of prescription drugs a felony?

The possession of prescription drugs that have been prescribed to you by a licensed medical professional is not illegal.

Possession of prescription drugs without a valid prescription is illegal and any alleged criminal charges will depend upon the “schedule” the particular drug falls within. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs, with high levels of abuse and addiction.    As the Schedules move to II, III, IV and V, the drugs become less dangerous.

How can I legally carry my prescription drugs?

When carrying drugs that were prescribed to you by your treating physician, you should carry the drugs in the container in which you received them from the pharmacy. If you place the drugs into an alternate container, you should have the identifying information regarding the prescribing doctor on hand as well.

Will I lose my driver’s license if I am convicted of a drug offense?

You may lose your driver’s license if you are charged with a drug offense which involved driving while impaired by the drug. If  the drugs (even prescription drugs) have the effect leaving you unable to think clearly, and/or drive safely, you may be charged with driving while impaired. This type of charge may result in losing your driver’s license, depending on many factors, that would be have to be taken into consideration by the attorney representing you, and discussed with you.

Will my landlord be notified of my drug conviction?

No, your landlord will not be notified of your drug conviction. However, in Maryland, any such records are open to the public in most cases. Your landlord may be able to discover your conviction if he/she fishes/searches for it.

Will my employer be notified of my drug conviction?

No, your employer will not be notified of your drug conviction. However, in Maryland, any such records are open to the public in most cases. Your employer may be able to discover your conviction if he/she fishes/searches for it.

Is possession of drug paraphernalia a felony?

No, possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor, not a felony. It carries a potential fine, and no jail-time.

Can I get my drug possession conviction expunged from my record?

No, you cannot have a conviction, of any sort, expunged from your record. Convictions are permanent. However, with counsel, and within a certain time-frame, actions may be taken to attempt to have the Judge strike the finding of guilt and replace it with a PBJ (Probation Before Judgment) which can be expunged.

Can I be charged with drug possession when I am a passenger in a car containing drugs I don’t own?

Yes, you can be charged with possession of drugs if you are a passenger in a car which contains drugs that are not yours, this is called “constructive possession.”

If the arresting officer is not certain who the drugs belong to, he will charge everyone with “constructive possession.” And the argument will be made that all of the passengers possessed the drugs constructively, and together.

Factors such as specifically where  the drugs were found will come into play, somewhat, when litigating such a charge (For example, if drugs are found in the glove compartment, and you were sitting in the front passenger seat, would be more concerning than if you were sitting in the way back seat of the minivan, however you could still be charged with constructive possession because you were in the vehicle, with the drugs.)

Can I get a DUI if stopped and found to be under the influence of marijuana?

DUI charges  routinely relate to being under the influence of alcohol intoxication, however a person can be under the influence of many drugs, which can result in charges of driving under the influence.

Although there is no quick and easy method for a police officer to determine that the driver is under the influence of marijuana, like the breath-test, for the officer to determine whether the driver is intoxicated, you can still be charged with DUI if you are stopped and determined (suspected) to be under the influence of marijuana. If  the effect of marijuana has had the effect of causing you to be unable to think clearly, and/or drive safely, you may be charged with DUI. If the officer finds marijuana related paraphernalia in the vehicle, you may be charged with DUI.

In such a situation, the officer will request the same tests as he/she would if alcohol intoxication were suspected. The breath-test will not show an elevated  blood-alcohol level, which may be used, together with other evidence, as proof that the suspicious driving must have been caused by a different drug, not alcohol. The field sobriety tests may appear similar a person who is intoxicated, which may be used, together with other evidence, as proof that the suspicious driving must have been caused by a different drug, not alcohol.

Maryland has police officers who are specially  trained as “drug recognition experts” who can observe, test, take blood pressure, examine eye movements, take your heart rate, and a multitude of other examinations of you, and then draw an “expert” conclusion, as to what drug, if any, you are/were under the influence of when you were stopped.

Drug usage can be determined through urine, or blood, tests.

What can I do when I get a ticket? When do I need an attorney?

If the ticket you received charges you with committing a crime (For example:  Driving With Suspended License, Driving With Revoked License, DUI, DWI) in most instances, you will have to go to Court. These tickets are Must Appear (MA) violations.

In circumstances in which you have received a ticket for a MA offense, an attorney can be of great help in terms of focusing on any defense you may have to the charge, working to minimize any potential jail time upon conviction,  minimize any potential fines upon conviction, and minimize any potential points on your driving record, upon conviction.

How do I plead Not Guilty?

You can, and should, initially plead “not guilty,” both by filing a pleading asserting your status, and/or asserting your status to the Judge, when you go to Court.

What happens when I plead Not Guilty?

Pleading “not guilty” means that you do not want to give up your constitutional rights at this time, and your case will be scheduled for another Court hearing at a later date. You will then have time to explore your options, and work with counsel in reviewing evidence, preparing your defense, and/or in negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecution.

When you plead “not guilty” your case will be scheduled for another Court hearing at a later date. You will then have time to explore your options, and work with counsel in reviewing evidence, preparing your defense, and/or in negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecution.

If your case is in the District Court, you will only be eligible for a trial before a Judge, there are no juries in District Court.

If your case is in the Circuit Court, you will be eligible for either a jury trial, or a bench trial before the Circuit Court Judge assigned to your case.

The choice regarding whether to proceed with a jury, or simply with the Judge, is a decision that is ripe with considerations, which vary case by case, and is something that should be decided with the assistance of counsel.

I lost my ticket. What should I do?

You should contact the District Court and the authority that issued the ticket.

How are fine amounts determined?

Fines are set by the State of Maryland.

In non-MUST APPEAR  matters, there will be a pre-set fine on your ticket. You can pay that fine, or choose not to pay the fine, and notify the Court (on the ticket) that you want a hearing. Do not forget to mail this response in within the time provided on the ticket.

If you go to Court to contest a ticket, or tickets, the fine automatically jumps to a potential $500 fine per ticket.

The Judge will decide, after your hearing, whether you are guilty or not-guilty of the offense(s).

If guilty, the Judge will have the authority to Order you to pay $500, for each ticket you were found guilty on, or significantly less than the $500. Usually, Judges Order Defendant’s to pay less than the $500 fine.

In MUST APPEAR matters, there is no pre-set fine. The fines are to be determined following your appearance in Court, and after being found guilty on whatever the MA offense(s) is/are.

Will my ticket be reported to the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles?

Yes, the MVA will be made aware of any convictions you receive for moving violations.

Will I get “points” on my driver’s license?

Yes, the MVA will associate points on your Maryland driver’s license for any convictions you receive for moving violations.

Will my insurance company find out about my ticket and raise my insurance premium/rates?

Insurance companies generally check an individual’s driving history prior to issuing a policy or new policy. Your driving history will show if you have paid a fine for a ticket, and/or if the Court has found you guilty of committing a moving violation.

Insurance companies have their own methods of determining what their premiums are, and whether they are altered at renewal, following negative driving findings/tickets.

Will my license be suspended?

Your license may be suspended for point accumulation following citations, leading to admission by you, or guilty findings by a Judge.

How do I get my license reinstated?

Reinstatement can be quite complicated, and a lawyer will be very useful. Reinstatement depends upon many factors, and the reason you lost your license in the first place.

Will conviction on a ticket affect my Commercial Driver’s License?

Likely, yes. This is something that you should seek counsel for assistance with, especially if you earn your living driving a commercial vehicle.

Collaborative Law

What is Collaborative Family Law?

Collaborative Practice is a voluntary dispute resolution process in which parties settle without resort to litigation.  Collaborative Practice, including Collaborative Law and interdisciplinary Collaborative Divorce, is a newer way for you to resolve disputes respectfully — without going to court — while working with trained professionals who are important to all areas of your life. The term incorporates all of the models developed since IACP’s Minnesota lawyer Stu Webb created Collaborative Law ideas in the 1980s.

The heart of Collaborative Practice or Collaborative Divorce (also called “no-court divorce,” “divorce with dignity,” “peaceful divorce”) is to offer you and your spouse or partner the support, protection, and guidance of your own lawyers without going to court. Additionally, Collaborative Divorce allows you the benefit of child and financial specialists, divorce coaches and other professionals all working together on your team.

How does the Collaborative Process Work?

In a Collaborative Family Practice:

  •  The parties sign a collaborative participation agreement describing the nature and scope of the matter.
  • The parties voluntarily disclose all information which is relevant and material to the matter that must be decided.
  • The parties agree to use good faith efforts in their negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable settlement.
  • Each party must be represented by a lawyer whose representation terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding.
  • The parties may engage mental health and financial professionals whose engagement terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding.
  • The parties may jointly engage other experts as needed.

The goal of the Collaborative process is to:

  • Negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement without having courts decide issues.
  • Maintain open communication and information sharing.
  • Create shared solutions acknowledging the highest priorities of both parties.

How does the cost of Collaborative Law compare with the cost of litigation?

The Collaborative resolution model is not the cheapest of the resolution models.  However, the cost of the Collaborative Process is, almost with exception, less than the cost of the litigation process.

Is the Collaborative Practice a faster way to get a divorce?

Generally, the alternate dispute resolution models, including the collaborative process, if successful, result in a faster resolution than those achieved through the litigation process.  However, the duration of the litigation process is greatly affected by the nature and number of issues presented to the Court by any particular litigant.  Correspondingly, the duration of the alternative resolution process can be greatly affected by the nature of the issues to be resolved, the complexity of the issues to be resolved, and the position and behaviors of the participants.

How is the Collaborative Law different from settlement negotiations between divorce attorneys?

The collaborative process is similar in many ways to the negotiations between divorce attorneys.  However, in the collaborative process the parties voluntarily disclose all information relevant and material to the process and the parties jointly engage all experts necessary to the resolution of the contested matter.  Parties engaged in the collaborative process are committed to creating shared solutions which acknowledge the priorities of both parties.   Attorneys not committed to the collaborative process are positional and advocate a course of action deemed to be in their client’s best interest, irrespective of the position of the opposing party.

Are my spouse and I required to give financial information to each other in the Collaborative Process?

Yes. Parties committed to the Collaborative Process are required to disclose all information, including financial information, which is relevant and
material to the matter that must be decided.  The financial condition of each party will, almost invariably, be deemed to be relevant and material to the dissolution of a marriage.

If I choose Collaborative Law, will my rights be protected and, if so, how?

Each party engaged in the Collaborative Process has his/her own attorney to advise them of their rights and of the potential effect that any proposed settlement may have upon him/her.  Furthermore, the attorneys representing each party will jointly discuss his or her understanding of the law with both parties as these matters are presented and discussed in the collaborative sessions.

What happens if the Collaborative Process fails and one or both parties want to obtain a divorce?

The collaborative process is terminated if either party seeks a judicial resolution (files for a contested divorce).  The parties are still free to seek to resolve their dispute through other alternate dispute resolution models or to seek a judicial determination.  The attorney who represents a client in the Collaborative Process cannot represent that client in any contested matter.

Can either of us terminate the Collaborative Process?

Yes.  The decision to attempt to resolve your dispute through the Collaborative Process is voluntary decision and cannot be compelled.  Similarly, continued participation in the Collaborative Process cannot be compelled.

What is a “Collaborative Team”?

A Collaborative Team is made up of each party, their respective legal counsel, one or more mental health professionals or coaches, as well as any jointly retained financial professionals and or other experts which may be deemed necessary to settlement of the contested issues.

What if my spouse chooses a lawyer who doesn’t know about or is not trained in collaborative law?

If you elect to attempt to resolve your dispute through the Collaborative Process your attorney must be a collaboratively trained attorney.

What is the difference between Collaborative Practice and conventional divorce?

A conventional or contested divorce is only obtained through the litigation process.  In the litigation process all, or some, unresolved issues are presented to the Court for a judicial resolution.  In order to obtain a judicial resolution a contested hearing will be held and evidence and testimony will be presented to the Judge.  The litigation process is an adversarial process and each attorney is committed to obtain the best outcome for his or her client possible, given the facts and circumstances of any particular case.  A resolution obtained through the collaborative process in gained through a committed effort by the collaborative team to limit hostility, to preserve the family unit, to voluntarily provide all material information, and to create settlement terms designed to acknowledge the respective positions of each party.

There is a lot of anger between us right now. Is collaborative Practice only for “amicable” divorces or separations?

No.  The collaborative process does not assume, nor does it require, that the parties be amicable.  The collaborative process does require that there be a commitment between the parties to resolve their dispute outside of the litigation process and to be willing to voluntarily and willingly disclose all relevant and material information.  Once the decision to engage in the collaborative process is made, then a collaborative team will be established to maximize the success of the collaborative process.  The collaborative team will very likely include a mental health care professional, or coach, for one or both parties, to assist the party(s) in dealing with the anxiety and emotional aspect of the process.  Certainly, at least one coach will be required in those collaborative cases with a high level or animosity.

Will Collaborative Law replace the traditional litigation process?

Collaborative Law is gaining respect and popularity.  The Collaborative Process is a proven and successful alternative dispute resolution model.  Certainly, any process providing potential litigants the ability to create their own settlement, rather than to have one imposed upon them by a Court, is of value and of worth. However, it is extremely unlikely that Collaborative Law will replace traditional litigation.  The decision to engage in any particular dispute resolution model, including the Collaborative Process, should only be made with the input of a qualified and experienced attorney.

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