Divorcing can be a tough process for you and your family. Here are ten things you should do before divorcing in Maryland.
1. Interview Divorce Attorneys Before You Need One
Meeting with and evaluating experienced divorce attorneys prior to making the decision to file for divorce, before your spouse has filed, will give you an advantage in considering your options and potential issues in your divorce case. Even if you are in the initial stage of simply considering your options, including filing for divorce, an experienced family law attorney can advise you of your options and the best course of action for your circumstance. The best course of action for you at any given stage will differ from someone else facing or considering divorce.
An experienced family law attorney can advise you on the law and procedures applicable to your specific concerns or questions related to divorce. Whether you are wanting to obtain alimony, minimize your potential liability for alimony, obtain full custody or specific visitation with your children, or a variety of other issues that are common or less than common in divorce cases; an experienced family law attorney will be able to answer your questions and give you a forecast of potential outcomes for your specific concern.
2. Establish Credit In Your Name or Increase Your Existing Score
Upon your divorce being finalized, it will be important to have credit in your name or as high a credit score as possible to assist you in renting an apartment, qualifying for the best mortgage options for a new home, obtain a car loan, and get a credit card in your name with a good interest rate. You can act now to establish credit in your own name, if you have never done so before. You can begin by researching credit card companies and determine what options and benefits will be best for the new you after divorce.
In some circumstances, if your spouse has established credit it can be transferred to you; however, it is always safety to begin by doing a free credit score report on yourself by one of the three major providers: Experian, Equifax, or Credit Karma. Once you obtain your credit score, you will know where you stand on credit. Obtaining a credit card in your name and consistently paying and other steps, may increase your credit score before you need it. Regardless of your credit status, increasing your credit score will make life easier after divorce, at least financially.
3. Categorize Assets and Debts
Upon divorce all property held by either party of the divorce will be divided. Unless a premarital agreement exists or your separate property has been maintained as separate property, your property will be split after your divorce. How your property is divided depends on state law. In Maryland, property brought into the marriage that is “not co-mingled” may remain separate property. Conversely, property that was acquired prior to marriage that was blended with marital property or its separate nature “cannot be traced” will potentially be subject to marital division. For example, you will likely be able to keep a car you owned prior to marriage. However, keeping a house you purchased prior to marriage may be more contested than a car, even if a strong argument exists that the home is separate property.
Developing a marital balance sheet, a detailed list of marital versus separate property, as well as all identifiable debts, will give you a leg up in the divorce process. Clearly identifying all large items of property and debts will help you consider the financial implications of divorce, as well as assist an experienced divorce attorney in giving you the most accurate legal advice on the issue of property division in your divorce.
4. Evaluate Your Financial Future
It is obvious to most people that divorce will have negative financial consequences. However, many parties fail to realize they will have to support themselves, your existing savings may be divided, and your income may be divided in half or worse, while your expenses may stay relatively the same.
Many married parties do not realize that the obligation for spousal support beyond marriage is very common. In Maryland, alimony or spousal support is awarded in many cases; however, it is temporary in almost all cases. It is unlikely that you will be required or provided spousal support beyond five years; however, this expense will be in addition to child support and the division of your property.
In some states, alimony may last for much longer than you anticipated and be a great amount that you expect. In Maryland, the case law on spousal support is expansive, but the basic premise is that alimony is based on the dependent spouse’s need for alimony and the other spouse’s ability to pay spousal support. That calculus may seem fair; however, beware as the other party in a contested divorce will often not be so reasonable and you may be forced to litigate the issue of spousal support. Evaluating your assets and financial liabilities will assist you in considering your options in divorce.
5. Consider the Date of Separation
Your move or your spouse’s move out of the marital home may start the clock of your separation. In many states, once a party moves out of the marital home or even the marital bedroom, the legal date of separation may be identified. In Maryland, the date of separation is not so simply. Separation in Maryland may be claimed when the parties have reached a state of no possible reconciliation and the marital bond has been destroyed. However, that is not so easy to identify.
The date you file for divorce is the last safe date to assume separation can be identified. Upon the date of separation, property and debt you acquire will be separate and not subject to division. However, in the case of credit card debt, the division of responsibility to pay debts can be more confusion. By opening a separate credit card and discontinuing use of all marital debts, you will more easily be able to claim you are not responsible for those debts and they should be attributed to your spouse, not you after the date of separation.
6. Research Divorce Requirements
Many people assume the timeline for your divorce is determined by the judge over your case. However, most states including Maryland, have waiting periods by statute with residency requirements prior to obtaining a divorce. The date you or your spouse file for divorce starts the clock for when your divorce may be finalized as well. In Maryland, as in most states, there is a waiting period between the date you file for divorce and when a divorce may be granted or finalized.
In Maryland, a divorce without minor children may be finalized within 30 days. However, a divorce with minor children in Maryland cannot be finalized until 90 days has passed. The longer you wait to separate and the longer you wait to file your divorce, the longer it will take to finalize the divorce process and move on with your life.
In addition to the statutory waiting period to be met, other requirements exist in order to obtain a divorce in every state. You or your spouse will have to prove your residency within the state in order for the divorce court to have jurisdiction to grant your divorce. In order for a divorce court in Maryland to have jurisdiction to hear your case, you or your spouse must have established residency in Maryland for at least six months and the county you are filing your divorce for 30 days. Additionally, you may seek divorce in Maryland, without leaving there, if it is your domicile or place of permanent residence.
In a divorce involving minor children, you may be required to complete a parenting seminar during the divorce process. In Maryland, both parties in a divorce involving minor children are required to complete a parenting seminar. An experienced Maryland divorce attorney can assist you identifying and completing the best parenting course.
7. Consider Custody
Divorce is difficult when it only involves two parties; however, it is always more challenging when children and custody are involved. When parents dispute custody and visitation in divorce, it can lead to a lengthy and expensive divorce. Additionally, many people incorrectly assume that mothers have a leg up in custody proceedings; however, this is no longer the case in most divorce courts in Maryland and elsewhere.
Family law courts in Maryland are tasked to evaluate the best interest of children in deciding custody disputes. State family law courts do not automatically favor mothers in custody determinations. Many family law courts favor join custody or shared custody arraignments; however, some family dynamics are not well suited for joint custody. In the early phases of considering divorce and child custody, you need to consider your family’s dynamics and what will be best for your children. You may be able to begin creating a custody plan, which you can present to your spouse early in the divorce process to minimize the fighting over custody. Identifying the custody plans that may work for your family will assist you in planning custody and other aspects of your divorce.
8. Save Proof of Income
Child support and alimony both take the parties’ incomes into account when factoring who will pay and how much. When you or your spouse have multiple streams of income or own a business, this process can be more complex. All income, taxed or untaxed, payroll or profits, fixed or contingent, is all subject to consideration for child support and alimony.
Spouses are legally prohibited from hiding income and assets; however, this rule is difficult to enforce without private investigators and forensic accounting after a contentious divorce has begun. Therefore, if you are aware of varied streams of income for your spouse, you need to act prior to filing for divorce to obtain records of the varied sources of income. Income that is more attenuated than a paycheck is difficult to track. You can identify and maintain records over time. You can document your spouse’s income by using some of the following tools: email, texts, receipts, account deposits, contracts, and other relevant sources of information from their business.
9. Consider your Mental Health
Divorce is emotionally and mentally exhausting for most people facing divorce. No one got married expecting to one day seek to end the marriage. However, divorce is the best thing for some marriages, due to a number of factors. The most important thing to do during the process is protect your children and your mental health. You may want to get through the process as quickly as possible, if you are determined to file for divorce. However, you should not give up on important issues or property, simply to get to a conclusion.
The process will be over at some point and in many instances your financial future and the future of your children will benefit from taking your time to ensure you maximize your future after divorce. We recommend anyone considering divorce seek help, including counseling to deal with the difficult emotions that come along with divorce.
Mental health professionals, especially a psychiatrist or counselor with training in grief counseling or divorce counseling may be a great resource to help you and/or your children with the pains of divorce. Do not consider yourself weak for seeking counseling during the process. It is a sign of strength to identify something you need help with and obtaining the right kind of help. Do not forsake the mental health of your children or yourself during the divorce process.
10. Wait on Building a New Relationship
Most people desire companionship and to be loved, which is a major reason why so many people are drawn to begin new relationships during the divorce process. Dating during separation can reduce your motivation to complete the process and can negatively impact your children if they learn about your new romantic interest.
Maryland is a no-fault state, meaning you do not have to prove the other party at fault in order to obtain a divorce, nor can the other party use your misconduct against you in court. The last statement comes with the following caveat, if your conduct has the potential of negatively impacting your children or unjustly enriches you, the court may consider that conduct in evaluating property division and custody. For example, if you have been the primary earner in your home and you have a new love interest, your argument for an inability to pay alimony will be weakened, if you have a love interest that you are spending money on in lieu of paying alimony.
In fault-based divorce states, an extramarital relationship during a divorce can negatively impact you in the divorce process, especially financially. We advise you hold off on new romantic relationship during or before the divorce process is finalized, for you personally, for your children, and strategically for your divorce case as well, whether you are in a fault-based divorce state or no-fault divorce state like Maryland.
Your Next Steps
Whether you decide to seek divorce or another course of action, you will benefit from contacting an experienced family law attorney to discuss your pain points and concerns for your potential divorce case. An experienced divorce attorney can explain the laws and rules applicable to your case and help you to identify a strategy moving forward, whether you are ready to file for divorce or you are only at the research stage.