Words Matter

As the Republicans and Democrats conclude their national conventions, we are increasingly aware of the importance of words in shaping our impression of candidates for the highest political office in our country.  We see discussions over the development of party platforms, the parsing of speeches by the candidates (and their spouses!), and the intense review of e-mails, tweets, and other forms of social media.  Words are one way – not the only way – that we human beings express our thoughts.  When we can put something into words, it is the starting point for understanding. In my work, I have noticed that many people I serve wish to achieve an “amicable” divorce.  The word amicable means friendly, affable, congenial, kindly, or sweet.  This is generally not what people are truly experiencing when confronted with the disappointment and heartache associated with the end of a relationship that was intended to be permanent.  Instead of the word “amicable” in relation to divorce, I prefer to use the word “uncontested.”  This means that parties have figured out a way to resolve any differences between them, which are typically contained in the specific words in a marital settlement agreement. Such an agreement establishes for the parties the basic framework for matters of business in the dissolution for the marriage – including the disposition of assets and liabilities – along with issues related to support and arrangements for children.  Getting to an agreement during a divorce can be difficult.  While this process is usually not characterized as “genial” or “sweet,” this transaction can be conducted in a respectful and civil fashion. With a marital...

FAQ for divorce

  Am I required to pay for my children’s college expenses? In Maryland, mothers and fathers are generally not required under the law to pay for college expenses of their children.  Child support obligations for fathers and mothers terminate when a child attains the age of 18 years or graduates high school, which ever one occurs last and child support generally will not go beyond the age of 19 years.   If parents are committed to paying for a child’s college expenses, the law will enforce a contract, usually in the form of a separation agreement.  This may later become a part of the final judgment of absolute divorce between the parents.  Of course there is nothing that prevents either parent from paying for a child’s expenses, but without a contract, a parent may not be legally obliged to do so.     If I don’t live with my children, how can I maintain a relationship with them after the divorce? When a family reorganizes, parents can decide, or if necessary courts can determine, where children live. In Maryland law, we have three general concepts that address this.  One is called sole physical custody, where a child lives primarily under the roof of one parent.  Another concept is shared physical custody which means a child lives for a minimum of one third of the year, or 128 overnights, with one parent or up to one half of the time, or approximately 182 overnights with each parent.  A third concept is known either as visitation, also known as an access schedule, which means something less than the shared physical custody.  Visitation...
Lawyer Cynthia Lifson Featured in the Daily Record

Lawyer Cynthia Lifson Featured in the Daily Record

And not just featured- on the front cover. Cynthia Lifson is featured on and in The Daily Record under the powerful words “Halting Harassment.”  A long-time advocate against domestic violence, Lifson recently testified in support of legislation that significantly broadened the definition of stalking.  This legislation received the overwhelming support of the General Assembly and was officially signed by the Governor on May 19.  The new law will go into effect on October 1. While stalking has been a crime in Maryland for a number of years, the new law will prohibit a person from engaging in a malicious course of conduct in which the person intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known, that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress in another.  Until the passage of this new law, stalking was limited to a showing that the malicious course of conduct would place another in reasonable fear of: serious bodily injury; an assault in any degree; rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense; false imprisonment; or death. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, identified and measured seven stalking behaviors that that would cause a reasonable person to feel serious emotional distress. These behaviors include: Making unwanted phone calls; Sending unsolicited or unwanted letters, e-mails, messages or texts; Following or spying on the victim; Showing up at places without a legitimate reason; Waiting at places for the victim; Leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers; Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth. While these...

The Costs and Benefits of “Do It Yourself”

It is not a big revelation to notice that the widespread use of the internet has hugely changed the way all of us operate.  With easy access to information through the world wide web, we can readily learn new things and become quite self-sufficient in managing our lives.  As we evaluate how to allocate our resources – both time and funds – one of the things to be considered is whether or not we will engage in “do it yourself” or engage in hiring someone to assist us with important transactions. In thinking about this basic question, I have come to conclude that the “do it yourself” approach is appropriate in many situations.  As I see it, if something ultimately does not have a serious impact on health, finances, or children, I will choose to undertake the research and do the work myself to accomplish what needs to be done. I will also frequently recommend that clients do the same. But in situations where the impact of an intervention or the lack of an intervention may involve long-lasting consequences, I approach the internet as a starting point to gather information and then engage expert assistance. In my professional life, I have had the experience of guiding clients through difficult times when their families are in transition.  It is my job to know and understand and explain how the law might affect my clients and how a judge in the City or in any one of the counties where I practice – Howard,  Montgomery, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Baltimore or Prince George’s –  may view the case.  I have repeatedly observed...

Governor Hogan Signs Bills Passed in 2016

Managing in the Digital Age & Modernizing Divorce Law Over the past few weeks, Governor Hogan’s staff has been busily reviewing bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly at the close of the 2016 session to ensure, among other things, that the bills meet the requirements of the United States and Maryland Constitutions.  Then, in what is truly a joyous celebration of democracy, legislators and citizens gather in the Governor’s ceremonial chamber in Annapolis to witness the signing of various bills that will shortly be added to the Maryland Code. One of the more interesting bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly this year is the Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.  This new law empowers us to appoint fiduciaries, typically agents, personal representatives, or trustees, to manage our digital assets.  Such assets in the form of computer files, e-mails, text messages, along with photos, videos, music and game files can be accessed not only by a person who created these assets but by another who is properly designated, consistent with the new statute.  Such access will eliminate the uncomfortable and painful continuation of digital assets long after death.  For example, it is not unheard of to get a LinkedIn notice five years after a person’s death about the person’s work anniversary.  With this new statute, such messages can be stopped. The ability to appoint another to act on one’s behalf through the appointment of a fiduciary is not a new legal concept, but as we all know, the march of technology and its widespread uses has changed the way we do business.  The opportunity to update estate...