If your spouse files a Complaint for Divorce against you, you have 30 days from the date you are served to file an Answer if served in the state of Maryland.   Maryland Rule 2-321(a).

You may also file a Counterclaim against your spouse.  Maryland Rule 2-331(a).

But if you file it more than 30 days after your Answer was due, your spouse can file a Motion to Strike your Counterclaim for being late.  The court shall grant the motion unless you can persuade the judge that the delay will not prejudice your spouse.  Maryland Rule 2-331(d).

The court in Montgomery County, Maryland, will no longer require the parties to submit their marriage certificate in order to obtain a divorce.  This brings our procedure in line with other counties in the state.

Funds have been found for the custody mediation program sponsored by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland, halted earlier this year for budget reasons.  It will be restored in September on an interim basis.  The court may order parties to mediate in cases involving contested residential custody of children.

Plans call for a single three-hour session in the courthouse. Unlike the previous program, mediators will be selected from the community, not court employees.

A work group is being formed to consider options and models used by other courts for custody mediation and to make recommendations.

Court Jurisdiction in Maryland

Court Jurisdiction Over a Divorce

In rem jurisdiction means jurisdiction over the thing or subject matter jurisdiction.  The courts of Maryland have subject matter jurisdiction to decide the marital status of the residents of Maryland. Therefore they have in rem jurisdiction to grant a divorce.

To order the payment of money, such as alimony, child support, counsel fees or a marital award, the court must also have in personam jurisdiction, or jurisdiction over the person.

Court Jurisdiction Over a Defendant

The Supreme Court has held that a person must have sufficient contact with a state before the courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over him or her.

The court has in personam jurisdiction over any defendant who lives, works or is served with a summons and complaint within the state.  But what about a person who does not meet these requirements?

The court can still assert in personam jurisdiction over a defendant if certain conditions are met under CJP Section 6-103.1 of the Maryland Code:

(a) Maryland must be the matrimonial domicile of the couple immediately before separation; or

(b) There is a written agreement to pay alimony, child support or counsel fees signed by one of the parties in Maryland; or

(c) There is an obligation to pay alimony, child support or counsel fees that arose out of the laws of the State of Maryland.

Several years ago a New York judge ordered Brian McGurk to pay his wife, Dorothy McGurk, $850 a month in lifetime alimony and gave her the marital residence because of her disability.

Recently Brian saw an entry on her blog that she was now belly dancing.  Furious, he took her back to court.

Dorothy claimed that her doctor had prescribed belly dancing as therapy for her injuries in a 1997 car accident.  The doctor however did not support that claim in court.

The judge reduced alimony to $400 a month, ordered her to pay her husband’s attorney fees of $5,000 and to give him 60% of the proceeds from the sale of the house.

As Shakira says, “Hips Don’t Lie”.

by Michael F. Callahan

We practice family law mostly in the Washington, DC commuting area, which includes DC Superior Court and the County Circuit Courts of the nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs.  Divorce jurisdiction depends on a party’s residence at the time the court case is filed.  And divorce usually involves at least one party moving from the marital residence (more about that later).   So often there are at least two choices for filing the case even without any planning regarding where to file.

You may have read or heard that the basic law of divorce — grounds, property distribution, spousal support, child custody and child support — is similar in each of the three local jurisdictions.  Why then think about shopping around for a divorce court?

There are clear differences between the jurisdictions in certain aspects of the law.  Because of one of these clear differences, the most important issues in your case might be decided differently in each of the three jurisdictions.  It might be decided much differently (and better for you) in say, Virginia, than it would be in Maryland or the District of Columbia.  Armed with this knowledge before you move, since you’re moving anyway, maybe you’d decide to move to an apartment in Arlington for a while instead of one in Bethesda.

Next time, I’ll discuss how and when to pick the court for your divorce and how to put your choice into action.  In coming weeks, we’ll discuss the various differences in the laws that can result in big differences in the outcome of a particular case.

You have to have oral testimony by the plaintiff, in person, and in the courtroom, to obtain a divorce.  Family Law Section 1-203 and Rule 9-209.

That testimony has to be corroborated by someone or something other than the parties to the divorce.  Family Law Section 7-101(b).   A marriage certificate can corroborate the marriage.  A notarized written agreement signed before the complaint was filed can corroborate a mutual and voluntary separation.  Family Law Section 1-104.

But most of your testimony is corroborated by a witness.  That testimony also has to be oral and in court “unless otherwise ordered by the court for good cause”.  Rule 9-209.

What is good cause?  The court has allowed me to use telephone testimony in a handful of cases where the corroborating witness was a geographically distant relative or a busy mental health professional.  In one uncontested divorce, I was permitted to corroborate adultery with the deposition transcript of the paramour, but the judge let me know he would have preferred live testimony.  If you are going to try to corroborate without a witness in the courtroom, call the judge’s clerk or secretary before the trial to make sure it will be permitted.

Most people are pretty clear that they want to get divorced by the time they see me.  But I tell them that everything I do is reversible, in case they change their minds.

Once in a while some of them do.  How do you “unfile” a complaint for divorce?

Maryland Rule 6-205 has the answer.  Paragraph (a) says that if your spouse has not filed an answer, you can dismiss a complaint by filing a Notice of Dismissal.  If your spouse has filed an answer, you will need him or her sign a Stipulation of Dismissal.

If you cannot get your spouse to sign, then paragraph (b) requires you to ask the court for an order dismissing the case.

The first dismissal, according to paragraph (c), is without prejudice, meaning you can refile your complaint later, if you change your mind again.

by Michael F. Callahan

Sometimes, a person appealing a divorce wants more than a review of the trial judge’s ruling.  He or she wants the trial court’s judgment stayed while the case is being appealed.

The appellant who wants a stay in Maryland, Virginia or DC must request the stay and file a bond to ensure that if the trial court’s judgment is affirmed, there are funds to pay whatever is required.

The law in DC had been that an appeal automatically stayed the final judgment of divorce.  In 2002, however, the court adopted Rule 8 which provides that you must now file a motion for a stay pending appeal in the Superior Court (the trial court) within thirty days of entry of judgment.  That court then decides whether to grant a stay and on what terms.  The Superior Court’s decision on the stay is also appealable.

Many interesting and potentially disastrous consequences flow from a stay of the judgment of divorce which I will discuss in my next post.

Father’s Rights and International Travel

Caryn Tamber tells the story in the Maryland Daily Record of Marius Aydanian and Antonina Aydanian, both of Bulgaria, who met when they were seeking political asylum in the United States.  They were granted asylum, married and moved to Indianapolis.

In 1998, Antonina enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.  Marius stayed in Indianapolis.  Antonina gave birth to their son.  In 2005, she obtained a Bulgarian divorce.

Marius was able to assert his father’s rights and obtain a visitation order in the U.S. for two days a month and the summers.  However, Antonina sent the boy to Bulgaria for two summers in a row.

Marius filed suit in Montgomery County, Maryland, for intentional interference with visitation.  On July 1, 2009, after two and a half days of trial, the jury returned a verdict for Marius in the amount of $23,000.

In a 2008 case, Khalifa et al. v. Shannon, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a $3 million verdict in favor of a father for interference with visitation when his ex-wife and mother-in-law took their two children to Egypt.