“I’ve never been divorced before,”said the thin man sitting across the desk from me. His dark narrow eyes darted back and forth as he nervously sipped the bottled water my receptionist had given him. He sank into one of the two wing-back chairs in my office. “I don’t know anything about it. I have a million questions.”
In my line of work as a divorce lawyer I meet all kinds of people. I tried to put the thin man at ease. I put my fingers together in a church steeple, closed my eyes halfway, and leaned back in my burgundy leather office chair in my best Perry Mason imitation. “Well I’ve been divorced twice, so ask me your questions.” I then proceeded to give him the following answers to his questions one by one.
Question 1. I had an affair. Am I going to lose everything in the divorce?
Adultery gives your spouse grounds for divorce, not the right to 100% of the house, cars, 401(K), and everything else. Jointly owned properties are divided equally. The judge can make a marital award to make sure the division is fair. In determining the marital award, the judge considers several factors. One of these is who was at fault in the termination of the marriage. The judge can also make adjustments for any marital funds you have spent on the affair.
Question 2. Will the court take the children away from me because I cheated?
Adultery may make you a bad spouse but it does not necessarily make you a bad parent. In Davis v. Davis, 280 Md 119, 372 A.2d 231 (1977), the Maryland Court of Appeals said
Whereas the fact of adultery may be a relevant consideration in child custody awards, no presumption of unfitness on the part of the adulterous parent arises from it; rather it should be weighed, along with all other pertinent factors, only insofar as it affects the children’s welfare.
The court looks at what is in the best interests of the children, not what is in the best interests of the parents.
Question 3. Can My Spouse Get a Divorced if I Don’t Agree?
While it takes two people to get married, it only takes one to get divorced. If you don’t want a divorce, you can slow down the process, but a spouse determined to get a divorce can get one.
Question 4. Do I Have to Have a Lawyer to File for Divorce?
It is not a requirement that you hire a lawyer for your divorce. The Maryland courts have published divorce forms on the Internet and there is a self-help desk at the Montgomery County, Maryland, Courthouse. We have do-it-yourself divorce help on this website and we have published self-help divorce books. However, divorce cases can get complicated quickly. If your case involves child custody, alimony, real estate, retirement funds or other assets, we recommend you hire a lawyer.
Question 5. Does the Mother Always Win Custody?
In the old days many judges followed the Tender Years Doctrine which presumed that mothers were the better care taker for young children. Today, however, the standard is best interests of the children. Many jurisdictions, like The District of Columbia presume that joint custody is in the best interests of the children.
Question 6. Can a Husband Get Alimony?
Today, there are many cases where the wife makes more money than the husband. In those cases, husbands are entitled to the same rights as wives including the right seek alimony.
Question 7. How Much Is All This Going to Cost?
In most cases of a long marriage, the judges in Maryland, Virginia and DC will divide marital assets equally, but they are not required to. If you make a lot more than your spouse, or your spouse is ill or requires some training to get back in the workforce, you will probably have to pay alimony. The judge decides the duration and amount. Once custody and alimony are determined, you can use online calculators to determine child support. You may have to pay all or a portion of your spouse’s attorney fees as well as your own.
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The thin man sighed and said, “Thank you. It’s not what I wanted to hear but I feel better knowing than not knowing. I want you to be my lawyer. What’s the first step?”
“Sign my retainer agreement and pay my retainer,” I replied as I pushed the document across the desk and held out my Mont Blanc fountain pen. “I’ll start working on your case immediately.