Do I need a lawyer?
The short answer is: yes. While there might be some parts of the court process that you can handle on your own, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before anything is finalized. You might work out an agreement, either on your own or through mediation, but remember that a mediator cannot advocate for you - they are neutral.
Consulting with an attorney will help you ensure that you have considered and addressed all issues, taken advantage of any benefits you may not be aware of, and that the terms of any agreement are clearly stipulated to avoid any confusion or problems later on.
How much does a divorce cost?
Every client wants to know the answer to this question, but it is almost impossible to predict. The cost of a divorce depends on the issues at stake and how the other party conducts themselves during the divorce process. The more things the parties agree on, the less expensive the process is likely to be, and the higher conflict a case is, the more expensive it's likely to be.
How do I pick a lawyer?
Choosing an attorney is actually very personal. You should like your lawyer, trust your lawyer, and feel comfortable with their approach. In addition to online research, ask friends, family, and colleagues if they have any personal recommendations (or if they were impressed with the attorney opposing them in a similar case). Most importantly, meet with the attorney before committing. Paying a $450 consultation fee is worth the price to know that you and your attorney are aligned regarding your ultimate goals and how to approach your case.
My spouse and I agree on everything, can we have one lawyer?
No. It is an ethical conflict for one lawyer to represent both sides of a case. When engaged in a legal matter, you and the other person have opposing interests, even if you agree on all the issues at the beginning.
How long does it take to get divorced?
It depends on how many issues there are to be resolved and whether you settle your matter or go to trial. From start to finish, a case can take 12 - 18 months to work its way through the courts. If you and your spouse reach an agreement on all outstanding issues, it takes 6-8 weeks from the time that you file for an uncontested divorce to have the divorce hearing.
Is it better to settle outside of court?
When possible, a settlement is preferable to litigation both because it costs less money and because you can be much more creative in an agreement than the court can be in a ruling. The courts are bound by the law and legal precedent, and do not have nearly the same amount of discretion as two parties can have in a private negotiation.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a confidential process in which the opposing sides of a case (and usually their lawyers), meet with a trained neutral third-party, the mediator, to try and resolve the disagreement in question. Oftentimes, mediation is conducted via what is called “shuttle diplomacy,” where the parties are in separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth between the parties trying to work out an agreement. This can prevent emotions from getting heated as they might if the two parties were together in one room.
Do I have to go to court to get a divorce?
Yes. Even if you and your spouse agree on all issues, at least one of you must appear for an uncontested divorce hearing so that the court can take certain testimony and receive evidence. An uncontested divorce hearing often takes less than 10 minutes, and your lawyer will prepare you in advance for the questions that you will be asked under oath.
Where do I get divorced?
In Maryland, your divorce hearing, and the Judgment of Absolute Divorce, will be granted by the Circuit Court in the county in which you live (or by the DC Superior Court for Washington, D.C. cases).
Do we need to be separated first to get divorced?
No. Maryland has "fault grounds" for divorce that do not require physical separation (i.e. adultery), and "no-fault grounds" for divorce that do not require physical separation (i.e. mutual consent with a comprehensive settlement agreement). As of October 2023, Maryland will also have “irreconcilable differences” as a ground for divorce which does not require a physical separation or a pre-negotiated settlement agreement.
Can I live with my spouse while separated?
Yes, but you must sleep in separate bedrooms and not engage in sexual relations.
Will I lose my health insurance in a divorce?
With rare exception, most health insurance plans do not permit coverage for a former spouse. A divorce is typically a “qualifying event” that results in the non-employee spouse losing health insurance coverage.
What is a "pendente lite" hearing?
“Pendente lite” is latin for “pending the litigation.” It is a hearing that the court holds on issues of temporary custody, access, child support, alimony, and attorney’s fees while the case is ongoing. This hearing usually occurs 3-6 months after the case is filed, and the order that results from the hearing remains in place until either a settlement is reached or the divorce trial occurs.
How does alimony work?
Alimony is spousal support, a monthly amount of money paid by one spouse to another for living expenses. Alimony can be for a defined period of time, or it can be indefinite. Each spouse’s respective earning capacity, the standard of living during the marriage, and the division of marital assets all factor into determining alimony.
How does child support work?
Child support is primarily based on two things: 1) each parent’s income, and 2) the access schedule (defined by the number of overnights that the child spends with each parent). It is a right that belongs to the child, and it cannot be waived by the parents. Child support is paid in Maryland until the child turns 18 or, if they are still in high school when they turn 18, upon graduation from high school or turning 19, whichever happens first. In Washington, D.C., child support is paid until the child is 21.
What is custody?
There are two parts of custody: legal custody, and physical custody. It is important to understand them both, and to know that the court considers them separately (i.e. you could have joint legal custody of a child with one parent having primary physical custody).
Legal custody is the right to make significant decisions for your child relating to their education, health, or religious upbringing (i.e. who is the pediatrician? Will they go to private school or public school? etc.). This can be granted to one party (called “sole legal custody”); both parties (called “joint legal custody”); or granted to both parties with one parent getting the final decision (called “joint-legal custody with tie breaking authority").
Physical custody is determined by the number of overnights granted to each parent. There is a threshold number of overnights that classifies an access schedule as “primary physical custody” versus “shared physical custody.” The access schedule sets out when each parent will see the child and is also called a visitation schedule.
What is a custody evaluation?
A custody evaluation is usually a court-ordered investigation by a social worker or psychologist regarding the best legal and physical custody arrangement for children in a divorce case. It typically consists of interviewing each parent, interviewing the child(ren)—if age appropriate—interviewing witnesses familiar with the family dynamics, home visits with each parent and the child(ren), and can also include mental health evaluations. After the evaluation, the custody evaluator will write a written report with their recommendations to the court.
What is a Best Interest Attorney?
A Best Interest Attorney (known as a Guardian Ad Litem in Washington, D.C.) is a specially trained attorney appointed by the court to represent the children in a custody case.