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Common Mistakes During Marriage

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

Sometimes when spouses first separate and start to divorce, one of them will try and be a really good person. For example, he or she will not push to see the children as often as they want because they don’t want to ‘upset’ the other parent and the children. Or they will try and artificially lower their expenses (for example, by living in a friend’s basement) so they can continue to fully support their spouse and children’s household. But these situations can take on a life of their own. The court typically wants to keep in place whatever the parties have already been doing themselves. So the parent who tried to be a good person by not pushing to see their children as often as they would have liked may find themselves with a court ordered schedule of access the same as what they have been doing, not what they think is actually best for the children. And the parent who tried to be a good person by keeping their expenses to a bare minimum may find themselves with a court order for support that requires them to keep paying what they have been for their spouse and children, leaving very little left over for themselves, keeping them stuck living in their friend’s basement! Be sure to consult with an attorney during the initial stages of your separation and divorce to plan your course of action, before things start to take on a life of their own.

Once You’ve Signed the Agreement, it’s Too Late.

All too often, I will get a call from a spouse or parent who wants me to review an agreement concerning separation, property, custody and/or support that they have already signed. At that point, if there is any problem with the agreement, it is almost always too late for me to help. A signed agreement is a binding contract, and whatever each party has agreed to do, they are supposed to actually do. If we had only had a consultation before that person signed, I could have let them know whether the agreement was fair, whether there were provisions or issues they hadn’t thought of that they might want to include, and whether there might be a part of the agreement that violates family law and would be rejected by the court. It is important to consult with an attorney before signing any domestic agreement.

Pay Debts with Marital Assets.

Separation and divorce is expensive; a couple cannot live as cheaply in separate households as they do together. One spouse may incur some debt, like a loan from a relative or a friend, a balance on a credit card, or a loan on their car. As a general rule, the court can’t make one spouse pay the other spouse’s debts. Therefore, a spouse who has a debt is going to be stuck with that debt. On the other hand, the court can effectively divide between both spouses money one spouse received during the marriage (not by inheritance or gift). Thus, if a spouse has money they received during the marriage that they didn’t inherit or receive as a gift, for example in a bank account, they generally would be better off using that money to pay down their debts than they would be having to split that money with their spouse while at the same time being stuck with all of their unpaid debts! Please consult with an attorney to find out whether you should be taking any appropriate steps to maximize your financial situation (not your spouse’s) coming out of a divorce.

You Can’t Just Move the Children Out of Maryland.

Sometimes a parent thinks they can avoid a custody fight by moving themselves and the children out of state, thereby essentially taking custody for himself or herself. As a general rule, our judges won’t let this happen, and they will issue an emergency order requiring the child to be returned to Maryland until custody is actually decided. If the other parent has taken your child of out state, you must act quickly, because if you wait, the court may find by your inaction that you agreed with the move. If you yourself want to move the children out of state, try to get the other parent’s agreement in writing. Be truthful with the other parent; don’t say you are only going for a vacation or for the summer if you actually want to permanently move. If the other parent agrees in writing, your move may be approved by the court, especially if you relied upon the other parent’s agreement in significantly changing your life, for example by quitting your job, selling your house, signing a lease for a new apartment in another state, etc. Relocation cases can be some of the most difficult cases in all of family law. Be sure to consult with an attorney early in the process so you don’t inadvertently waive your rights by inaction.

Don’t Overvalue Your Business.

Many people have their own businesses: lawyers, dentists, photographers, painters, bakers, etc. But how much is a business really worth as property in a divorce? To answer that question, ask yourself this one: if the business owner sold their business to someone else, walked across the street, and opened a new business doing the exact same thing, what percentage of their previous customers (or clients, or patients, etc.) would follow them across the street to their new business? If the answer is almost all of the ‘old’ business’ customers would start going to the ‘new’ business across the street, then the business probably isn’t worth much in the divorce. Its value would basically be the sum of the fair market values of all of the business’ assets (for example, the desks, computers, equipment, bank accounts, etc.). Any other value the business has is so ‘personal’ to the owner that it shouldn’t be taken into account by the court in deciding marital property issues. So before you let your spouse scare you by claiming your business is going to be worth millions in the divorce, consult with an attorney and make sure your business is fairly valued.