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...

Frequently Asked Questions

Where should I file for divorce? Divorces are handled through the Circuit Court System in Maryland, which is divided into individual counties and Baltimore City. Maryland has twenty- three counties and Baltimore City as jurisdictions for Circuit Court proceedings. As a general matter, a complaint for divorce in Maryland is filed in the jurisdiction where the parties reside. If the spouses live in different jurisdictions, then the initiating party, the plaintiff, may file either in plaintiff’s jurisdiction or in the jurisdiction where responding party, the defendant, either resides or works. Special rules may apply when dealing with children. How long will the divorce take? The time it takes to obtain a final divorce in Maryland, which is referred to as an absolute divorce, depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. In general, if spouses can arrive at an agreement about their marital issues in advance of filing a complaint for absolute divorce, the time it takes for a judge to sign the order for absolute divorce is less than if parties engage in protracted conflict. Maryland courts have put in place a system of organization called differentiated case management. In most jurisdictions (counties and Baltimore City), a trial date in a contested divorce case will be scheduled within one year of the filing date of the complaint for absolute divorce. For uncontested divorces, a hearing on the divorce may typically be scheduled within ninety days of the initial filing date. What can I do to reduce the attorney’s fees? One of the most important actions that you can take to reduce the cost of the attorney in...

Always Updating: Mediation Training

In the same way we must pay attention to changes in the law made by the legislature and by the judiciary, for me it is also imperative to keep learning, to refresh my base of knowledge, and to be open to new approaches to help clients resolve their disputes. On March 3rd of this year, I received a Certificate of Completion for Mediator Training through the Maryland State Bar Association. Mediators who accept court appointments must update their training annually. I find that such training also enhances my work as a mediator for all clients, but most especially in the area of divorce and custody. During mediation, parties sit down with an impartial mediator. A trained mediator facilitates discussions between the parties with the goal of having them reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This form of dispute resolution enables parties to avoid having solutions imposed on them by the court system through the litigation process. While mediation is not easy, it may provide a quicker result and a less expensive path to resolution than litigation through the courts. At the start of the training, participants were challenged with a series of hypothetical problems to test our understanding of the Maryland Standard of Conduct for Mediators. Some of the subtle differences between legal information – which may be appropriate for the mediator to discuss – and legal advice- which is never appropriate for the mediator to disclose – were addressed. At the end of the training, I felt that my time was well spent. Not only did training provide time for reflection, but it affirmed my philosophy that mediation and...

A Clean Slate vs. Open Records – Weighing and Balancing

The end of the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly is rapidly approaching. Spring is in the air and because of the “blizzard of bills” that has been introduced, bills are now receiving either unfavorable votes in committee or winding their way through the labyrinth of procedural steps in the General Assembly. This year, there has been significant and sustained interest in a topic that affects all of us: the balance between the opportunity for a person to start over after making bad choices and the need for the public to access court records freely. All of this interest has been intensified by our collective use of and reliance on the internet as a way to get information quickly and easily. This issue finds expression in some basic questions: To what degree should the public have unfettered access to court records? When, if ever, is it appropriate to permit a person convicted of a criminal offense to ask the court to expunge (in other words to wipe away) the public record of the conviction? Is it important to have a permanent paper record in a court file of cases filed but, at the same time, limit publication of these court cases on the internet? The General Assembly has grappled with these questions in more than a dozen bills dealing with the topic of expungement of court and police records. Proponents who favor expungement argue that criminal records that cannot ever be erased create unreasonable barriers to jobs and housing. Such barriers prevent the successful re-entry of offenders into the community after they have paid their debt to society...