“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.

 *  *  * 

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.

 

“I had an affair with a woman I work with a few years ago,” said the prospective divorce client in Attorney Hamilton Starke’s office.  “I think I should tell my wife about it.”

“No, no, no!’ exclaimed Starkes.  “Look, your guilt is making you want to confess.  But the more you explain, the more problems you will create.”

“But I thought Maryland was no-fault divorce?”

Grounds for Divorce

“No-fault applies to grounds for divorce.  Maryland has both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce,” Starkes explained.  “We started with only fault grounds which are desertion, adultery, imprisonment, and insanity. Then we added the no-fault grounds which are currently one-year separation and mutual consent.”

 Alimony

“In a contested divorce, even one brought on no-fault grounds, a judge must consider fault in determining the amount and duration of alimony,” Starkes continued.  “Or, as the law puts it, the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.  That includes fault such as an affair.”

Property Distribution

“And that’s not the only trouble a confession will bring to your case,” Starkes said.  “Maryland law requires a three-step procedure for distributing property.  In Step One the judge identifies the marital property of the parties.  In Step Two the judge values the marital property.  In Step Three the judge adjusts the equities if necessary with a Monetary Award.

In determining a Monetary Award,” Starke explained, “the judge must consider several factors including the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.  So here we are, back to fault again.”

Confession or Discretion

“So I should lie to her?” asked the prospect.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“No,”  Starkes said, “Always tell the truth.  You just don’t always have to be telling it.”

To file a complaint for divorce, you have to have to cite a reason. These are known as as grounds for divorce in Maryland. They are listed in the Maryland Code.

The Code has both fault and no-fault grounds.   Fault grounds, such as adultery, desertion and cruelty, are factors the court must consider in determing alimony and distribution of property.

You may have, and plead, multiple grounds for divorce.  Or, like in the following case, the wife may plead one ground and the husband may plead another.  Who gets to pick the grounds on which the divorce is ultimately granted if more than one applies?

Mary and Timothy Welsh married in 1961.  Timothy had degrees in accounting and law and was licensed as a real estate agent.  Mary took care of the house and their four children.  They acquired a 22 acre property during the marriage.

Mary left Timothy in 1994 and filed for divorce based on adultery.  Timothy counterclaimed for divorce after two years of separation.

The trial court said that Mary failed to prove adultery but Timothy conceded it at trial.  Nonetheless, the trial court granted the divorce based on separation.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision, stating that:

It is ultimately up to the court, based on its fact finding, to declare the grounds for divorce. It is not reasonable that the court be obligated to grant the divorce on the grounds requested when the judge is more persuaded that it is more likely than not that other grounds for the divorce are more justified.

Welsh v. Welsh; 135 Md.App. 29 (1999)

Two hundred divorces in the UK since the beginning of the year have cited Fortnight as the reason for the breakup.

If you don’t know what Fortnight is, your children can probably tell you.  It’s a highly addictive, time-consuming video game that can be downloaded and played for free on the Internet.

My two teensage boys play it most every night after they do their homework. But about half of the Fortnite players are adults.

Fortnite is a shooter-survival game, where the goal is to kill off everyone else. Last man or woman standing wins.

You can buy digital items from Fortnite, like different outfits for your character, and that’s how Fortnite makes money – to the tune of about three million dollars a month.

Spending your time killing video players may be more exciting than your real life relationship, but you should be aware that it can lead to divorce.

The Maryland legislature added Mutual Consent as grounds for divorce for couples without minor children in 2015 to allow divorce without a waiting period if the parties had a written agreement.  Section 7-103 of the Family Law Article of the Maryland Code.

Now the legislature has added couples with minor children to the statute so long as (a) a Maryland Child Support Guidelines Worksheet is attached to the Agreement if the Agreement provides for child support, and (b) the court finds the sections of the Agreement with respect to the children are in the best interests of those children.

The law, if not vetoed by the Governor, will take effect October 1, 2018.

“We had a traditional arranged marriage, I only knew him for two months before the wedding and never noticed how stingy he was,” said Sameeha, an Egyptian woman.  “During the first week of our marriage, he told me that he hates going out anywhere because that would be a waste of money.”

During those first two months of marriage, Sameeha asked her husband to take her out somewhere. While they were out, she asked him to buy her a shawarma, which is a chicken wrap sandwich.

He told her he that he already bought her juice and that’s it. He said that she was trying to exploit his wealth.

Sameeha filed a complaint for divorce.

 

 

Yagmur of Istanbul, Turkey, married Barak two years ago.  But she discovered during the marriage that he was always spending time cleaning or fixing his bicycle in the middle of the living room..

“This is not an ordinary attachment, he is literally in love with the bike,” said Yagmur, claiming that her husband had abandoned her for his bicycle.

She filed for divorce and demanded 400,000 Turkish lira (about $100,000 US Dollars) in compensation, for the negative effect her husband’s bicycle obsession has had on her mental health and her life.

A woman in Dubai says that she is the sole breadwinner in the house and pays all the bills.  Her husband is unemployed and cannot keep a job.  He reportedly goes out at night with his friends and leaves her home with the children.

She does not have a car.  When she asked her husband for a ride, he said he would do it for $5oo diram (about $136).  He said that the money was to compensate him for the time he would miss out on seeing his friends.

She has filed for divorce.

To get a divorce, you have to have one of the reasons spelled out in the law.  These are call grounds for divorce.  One of the grounds for divorce in Maryland, for example, is cruelty and excessively vicious conduct.  California has irreconcilable differences.  And England calls it behaviour.

The Daily Express reports that in the past, unreasonable behavior usually meant money problems or drinking too much.  But the definition has expanded in modern times.  Here are the top unreasonable behaviours in England today:

  1. Partner’s illness
  2. Snoring
  3. Going to the gym too much
  4. Being ungrateful for all the work their partner does
  5. Being hopeless with money
  6. Disagreement over respective politics
  7. Food fanaticisms
  8. Fishing
  9. Sex – either not enough, being offered too much, or loss of interest
  10. Suspicion other party messing around
  11. One partner wants to travel, the other doesn’t
  12. The party puts their mother before their spouse
  13. Spending too much time online or on the phone
  14. Not helping with children
  15. Refusing to to give up smoking

 

This morning my wife alerted me to an article in Harpers Bazzar last week called “If You Are Married to a Trump Supporter, Divorce Them” by Jennifer Wright.

“Supporting Trump at this point does not indicate a difference of opinions,” my wife said quoting the author. “It indicates a difference of values.”

“The problem is,” I replied, ”my spouse voted for Trump is not grounds for divorce in DC, Maryland or Virginia.