Lifson Law: Blog

New Law on Grounds for Divorce and Domestic Violence to Go Into Effect on October 1st

In Maryland, October 1 is the date when most legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor goes into effect.  In 2015, some major changes occurred in family law.  For divorcing couples who do not have minor children and who can come to agreement about property and alimony issues, there is no need to separate and wait one year before filing for an absolute (final) divorce based on the ground of mutual consent.  This development significantly eases the path for couples who seek an uncontested divorce because no one year waiting period will be required before a complaint for absolute divorce can be filed in court. Another law related to grounds for divorce will also become effective October 1.  While it may not have as much of an impact as the new ground of mutual consent for an absolute divorce, it will now be possible to apply for a limited divorce based on separation of the parties.  Previously, before filing a claim for a limited divorce based on a separation of the parties, the moving party was required to prove that the separation of the parties was the result of a voluntary agreement by both parties.   In certain difficult situations where parties cannot reach an agreement about separation, this change in the law will allow one of the parties to move from the marital home and begin a court proceeding promptly.  While it is usually desirable to resolve pending issues between unhappy members of a couple without beginning the procedure with a court filing, in certain situations, a court action is the first step...

E-Discovery: What is it?

In any lawsuit, including family law cases, it is common to engage in the process of discovery.  In essence, discovery is intended to allow each party in the litigation process to collect information which is reasonably calculated to produce admissible evidence in advance of a court hearing or trial.  Failure by a party to respond to discovery requests may result in serious sanctions by the court and may also result in an overall negative outcome for the party who does not comply with the rules of discovery. Discovery takes on a variety of forms and can be an exhausting and time consuming undertaking.  Traditionally, the discovery process is “paper-rich” and may include the preparation of and answers to questions (referred to as interrogatories), the preparation of and response to requests for the production of documents, and depositions or the taking of testimony under oath of the parties or other witnesses. As our more and more of our means of communication take place electronically, discovery also encompasses the recovery of electronically stored information (ESI).  Retrieving ESI can be a much more complicated procedure than merely copying documents and courts have been developing rules to govern this process.  Certain difficulties emerge when collecting ESI.  For example, electronic records have multiple facets, including metadata, which may be considered privileged information. Metadata, at its simplest definition, is electronically embedded details about a data file, such as the date it was created, its author, or its connection to other files or information. Connections to otherwise confidential documents could potentially make that metadata privileged and not subject to discovery.  It can be a complicated process...

Notes From the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: A Contract is a Story

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a continuing legal education seminar on contract drafting.  Now, I know that many may think that this is a totally tedious undertaking, but I remain fascinated by this particular form of writing.  Since the beginning of time, principles of exchange that are embodied in contracts have been necessary for human societies to function.  While contracts can certainly be verbal, a written instrument that articulates the elements of an agreement is usually preferred. When I first meet with a new client, it is not unusual for me to look at a document that the client has taken from a website on the internet and already signed. The client asks me to review the document and offer a legal analysis of the contract.  When I inquire about the client’s understanding of the document he or she has downloaded from the internet, the client frequently does not understand the meaning of the words in the document.  Sometimes, the client “tweaks” the language to reflect what the client believes is the intent of the parties to the contract.  In such instances, these “tweaks” may result in language that is so confusing that I need to say that absent amendment of the document, a court may need to intervene to interpret the contract. So what can a thoughtful person do to create a clear, understandable, and legally enforceable agreement?  While it may be useful to start with a template, looking at the contract as a story may help organize thinking.  I especially enjoy spending time with my clients to help them craft their “stories” when facing a...

Marriage Equality: Thinking About the Business Consequences

  On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteen Amendment of our Constitution requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. Same-sex couples in the United States are entitled to the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. The particular state where a same-sex couple resides does not change this right. While some citizens celebrated this decision and other citizens denounced it, the change in our law will likely create a considerable impact on business. Now that there are no legal impediments to same-sex marriages, we can expect that many businesses will re-evaluate their policies regarding benefits for both spouses and domestic partners. For example, some companies had previously put in place benefits for domestic partners, or same-sex couples who could not legally wed. Some of these, such as cooperative health insurance coverage, are still in place. Yet, as The Washington Post reports, it is not clear whether these benefits will continue to be extended to long-standing couples that do not legally marry. It may no longer be a cost-effective option to offer, especially for small business owners. Similarly, with more individuals applying for spousal benefits, companies may find them too expensive to offer altogether. According to The Wall Street Journal, this is a recent trend that employers have been following to save money. Those businesses already inclined to cut these benefits will likely move forward now that the ruling has taken place. In addition, the timing of any changes in benefits offered by companies to their employees may change as a result of the...

Cyberstalking: New Form of Old Behaviors

  The crime of harassment has been on the books for a very long time. And of course, the obnoxious and often frightening behaviors associated with harassment have been a part of human existence since the beginning of time. One form of harassment is stalking: a crime that calls to mind the hunter and the prey, a crime of intimidation and psychological terror that often escalates into violence against its victims. Now, as we continue to develop new and immediate ways of communicating with one another, we see forms of stalking through electronic media. The relentless pursuit of a victim through the internet can be disruptive, cause enormous fear, and foreshadow undesirable contact “in real life.” This form of stalking through electronic communication devices is often referred to as “cyberstalking.” The federal government and all fifty states, including Maryland, have statutes to address stalking. However, the law has not kept pace with rapid changes in technology. Currently, Maryland law defines stalking in this way. It is a malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursing another where the person intends to place or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would place another in reasonable fear of the following: serious bodily injury, of an assault in any degree, of rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree, false imprisonment or death. Notice that the term “approaching” is ambiguous. Does this mean approaching in the actual physical environment, or does it refer to approaching through electronic media? The June 1, 2015 decision by the Supreme Court in the case Elonis v. United...

Notes From the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: Slowing Down the Pace

I recently returned from a trip to one of our most famous national parks, Yosemite, in northern California.  Such an experience was wonderful in the most literal sense of the word.  I was truly filled with wonder while being in the midst of the natural world.  In viewing the incredible vistas, the sparkling waterfalls, and enormous rock formations, it occurred to me that all of this did not develop in the seconds it takes to tweet, but took an enormous amount of time and energy to create.  I also appreciated the stillness of the park.  Amazingly, despite the presence of many other visitors, it was a quiet place. Upon coming home to Maryland, I remain grateful for the opportunity to do meaningful and important work on behalf of many clients.  I am refreshed and ready to re-enter the hurly-burly of my law practice.  But as I think about it, the basic need to unplug, to reflect, and to slow down allows us to nourish ourselves and think about what is important in the very short time we have to be on this earth. I hope that you take some time this summer and enjoy something wonderful,...

What Can I Do to Manage My Time During the Divorce Process?

  For most people, the prospect of divorce presents a challenge in managing time.  As the daily pace of life accelerates, the added burden of re-organizing a family can create major stress.  While this observation is hardly a major newsflash, thoughtful and deliberate management of time can reduce the difficulty of this transaction. In litigated disputes, an often underappreciated element of the case is the scheduling order.  This is a court order that sets out the time line for the completion of certain tasks in advance of any court proceeding.   It is created at the onset of the case and tells attorneys and parties what is expected.  Noting specific deadlines on a personal or professional calendar will avoid error.  Similarly, understanding the steps of the litigation process as noted in the scheduling order helps parties know what to do to prepare the materials before going to court. In situations where no court action is pending, there is no formal scheduling order so managing time to deal with divorce planning may not be obvious.  However, retrieving and organizing specific information related to a family’s assets and liabilities and income and expenses are basic to understanding how a case may resolve.  To that end, dividing what may be a major project into small achievable steps may help with time management.  Creating a clear record of monthly expenses by something as simple as maintaining an envelope with receipts of these expenses may also be useful. Consultation with an experienced attorney can also assist in preparing the appropriate information during the divorce...

Notes From Annapolis: Speeding Up Divorce

In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly modified one of the basic elements of proof necessary to obtain an absolute (or final) divorce in Maryland.  The amount of time one of the parties must reside in Maryland before being eligible to petition a Maryland court for an absolute divorce has been reduced from one year to six months.  This new residency requirement becomes effective on October 1st. This legislative change was brought to the attention of the General Assembly by military attorneys who work primarily at Ft. Meade and is intended to assist service members. People in the military are often transferred during the course of their duty and have difficulty meeting the one year standard.  This change in the Code to require only a six month residency may accelerate the divorce process for newcomers to Maryland.  Of course, this change is available to all persons who file for divorce in...

Notes From the Courts: A Rose By Any Other Name

In a new application of an old theme, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reiterated the basic concept of interpreting an agreement of the parties with regard to a spouse’s pension benefit. In Pulliam v. Pulliam, filed on April 29, 2015, the Court held that a consent judgment was unambiguous and that all elements of the Husband’s pension benefit are to be included in the transfer to Wife of her marital share of Husband’s pension.