GSW handles divorces in the following jurisdictions: Washington, DC; Prince George’s County, MD; Montgomery County, MD; Anne Arundel County, MD; and Arlington, VA. For cases in neighboring jurisdictions we have a list of lawyers we recommend that share our philosophy.
Fortunately, there have been improvements to the once archaic divorce laws that now don’t require extensive waiting periods to get a no-fault divorce. Divorces on “Fault” grounds such as adultery, abandonment and abuse have become almost completely unnecessary because in most cases the statutory requirements for a no-fault divorce are easily made. This certainly does not mean that those grounds do not exist or people do not abuse each other, it simply means that there is no need to raise them and create more issues and a higher legal bill.
In the District of Columbia couples may get divorced under so- called “mutual consent” grounds if both parties agree that the marriage is broken, and the parties have lived separate and apart for at least 6 months. If one party does not agree that the marriage is broken and does not want a divorce the party seeking a divorce must wait a year while living separate apart from their spouse.
In Maryland if the parties agree the marriage is broken and they have resolved all issues (such as alimony, distribution of property, child custody and support), they can get divorced without a waiting period. If the parties have not reached a settlement, they must live separate and apart for 12 months before one can file for divorce.
In Virginia, the parties can get a no-fault divorce after living separated and apart for one year. This timeframe can be reduced to six months if the parties reach a settlement agreement and do not share any minor children.
II. Child Custody and Visitation
In general, there two types of custody Legal and Physical. Many clients come in with the misunderstanding that legal custody is far more significant than it really is. Legal custody generally, is the right to make educational, medical and religious decisions for the child. In most situations the only area where we see parental disagreements under legal custody is choosing a school for a child. Therefore, in many situations, it is simply not worth spending funds on a legal battle over legal custody. Legal custody is presumed to be joint and without a strong reason Courts do not change that presumption. Determining a method to resolve a disagreement on school choice is highly recommended.
Physical Custody on the other hand encompasses most everything that relates to the children’s schedule and parenting agreements. With physical custody it is essential to develop a well thought out parenting plan that considers several aspects of you and your child’s future. This process is often the most difficult part of a divorce or custody battle as it may be the first time you truly accept and recognize that you are not going to be able to be with your child on several special days. The process and the decisions are hard and need to be well thought out and reasonable. The GSW team will walk you through your options and make sure we have done the best we can to create a sustainable plan for your child or children.
We try to avoid litigation in Custody matters whenever possible because you are putting the future of your child in the hands of a Judge that will only see a snapshot of the life they live. In the rare instances where custody litigation is required Maryland Virginia and Washington DC courts all use a standard that looks at the best interests of the child.
When determining the best interests of the child the courts will generally look at the following factors:
- the wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, where practicable;
- the wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to the child’s custody;
- the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may emotionally or psychologically affect the child’s best interest;
- the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
- the mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- evidence of an intrafamily offense;
- the capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
- the willingness of the parents to share custody;
- the prior involvement of each parent in the child’s life;
- the potential disruption of the child’s social and school life;
- the geographic proximity of the parental homes as this relates to the practical considerations of the child’s residential schedule;
- the demands of parental employment;
- the age and number of children;
- the sincerity of each parent’s request;
- the parent’s ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
While no two cases are the same, there are a few principles that we at GSW try and adhere to on all custody cases. (1) We try to never involve the children unless it is absolutely necessary. (2) We do not spend time battling legal custody without a very good reason. (3) We try to create plans that do not require a third-party parenting coordinator or therapist to resolve disputes. We believe they are unnecessary, often very high cost that take away too much of the parent’s authority. (4) We value the child’s education and well-being above all other issues even when that reality may not be convenient for our client.
III. Child Support
Each state has its own method for calculating child support. The District of Columbia provides its calculator to the public on the internet. (DC Calculator) In general child support guidelines factor the following things: Custody schedule, Income of each parent, health care costs, and work related day care. Depending on the jurisdiction there are other less significant factors that may be considered also.
While one may expect that child support does not involve the need for significant litigation it unfortunately can when one party tries to hide income or if they are not paying their child support. GSW has a certified fraud inspector on staff whose methods are quite effective in locating income that has been fraudulently represented.
IV. Spousal Support
Often referred to as alimony, this type of support is meant to help one spouse make ends meet financially when the marriage ends. Spousal support is not automatic. The party that needs the support must request it, and the courts consider a variety of factors when awarding alimony. The general standard of “maintaining the lifestyle accustomed to during the marriage” is one that is often misunderstood. The Court considers several factors in determining an Alimony award and of them the most significant is the need of the requesting spouse and the ability to pay of the non-requesting spouse. Often after considering those two factors accurately it can be determined that Alimony will not be granted in your case and therefore it is not worth cost to pursue it. In other situations Alimony is essential to have a fair divorce process and to allow the party with considerably less income to restart their life and find employment, obtain a new degree or to maintain a life that the other party benefited from during the marriage.
Often times, the spouse who earns more tries to hide it in order to reduce alimony. This spouse commits a fraud. We are well-equipped to find the sources of legal and, sometimes not, income and verify that. Our certified fraud examiner using tools offered in our legal system is trained to locate real estate or identify unusual transaction that may prove the source of non-reported income.
V. Equitable Distribution
In order to finalize any divorce, the parties must agree or the court must determine a fair and equitable distribution of property. The distribution of property involves the division of all marital assets and debts regardless of title. In general, marital assets are any asset not acquired by gift or inheritance that was acquired during the marriage, with very few exceptions.
For most divorces this will involve the marital home, retirement accounts, checking and savings accounts and credit card debt. In order to finalize the division of the marital home or other real estate, it is typically necessary to refinance the house and buy one side out or sell the home and split the proceeds. Use and possession of the marital home can be granted for a period of time after a divorce is finalized if the sale or refinance is not ideal.
In order to make distribution indeed equitable and just, one may need our services to review information about known assets and try to investigate whether there are unknown. Only a full picture of assets that exist or existed may lead to a fair result.
VI. Prenuptial Agreements
Whether it is a business or a marriage it is always best to determine how the money will be handled if there is a split when the parties are happy, excited and treating each other respectfully then when things go bad. A prenuptial agreement can save the parties a lot of money and provide predictability. At GSW we work with our clients seeking a prenuptial agreement to create a simple yet reasonable and fair agreement that meets their needs and considers the changes that may occur in the future.
Managing partner Chris Gowen is a trained mediator, is certified in collaborative mediation, and has completed a 20 hour mediation class. Chris has been very successful in getting parties to reach agreements during mediation and is very clear on what the process will be from the start. Unlike many mediators Chris does not just try and get parties to meet in the middle, he will make sure the parties are being reasonable and point out when one side is not.