Mutual Consent Ground for Divorce Expands

General Assembly Expands Mutual Consent for Divorce Effective October 1, 2018, mutual consent as a ground for an absolute divorce will significantly expand.  Currently, for divorcing couples who do not have minor children and who can come to agreement in writing 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.  Such couples will also be required to refrain from filing a pleading to set aside their settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing and must both appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.   The new law expands the ground of mutual consent procedurally and substantively.  Procedurally, only one party needs to appear at the court hearing on the absolute divorce.  Substantively, the new law allows parties with minor children in common to use the ground of mutual consent if they resolve all issues related to the care, custody and support of their minor children with a written agreement.  The parties must attach a completed child support guidelines worksheet and satisfy the court that any terms of their agreement related to their minor or dependent children are in the best interest of these children. Of course, spouses with minor children must also resolve all matters pertaining to property and alimony in the form of a written agreement to use the ground of mutual consent.   Interestingly, Governor Hogan declined to endorse the two bills passed by the General Assembly on the ground of mutual consent, although he did allow the bills to become law without his signature. ...

Maryland Estate Taxes: Changes in Annapolis

The 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly has inspired all kinds of headlines on issues of concern to our citizens.  Among other things, we are reading about legislation to address sexual harassment, the termination of parental rights of rapists, and the way firearms are regulated – or not regulated.  Such issues usually bring out many citizens who passionately express their support of or displeasure with various legislative initiatives. While these issues have generated much attention, other bills are winding their way through the Legislature that may affect our affairs.  In the area of estate taxes, HB308 and its companion bill, SB646, may significantly affect estate planning for wealthy families.  Under current law, if a person dies in 2018, Maryland excludes estates with a value of $4 million or less from the imposition of any estate tax.  If a person dies in 2019, current law excludes from Maryland’s estate tax the imposition of an estate tax that is the same amount that can be excluded under the federal estate tax, indexed for inflation.  Until December 2018, the amount of tax that was excluded under federal law was $5 million, indexed for inflation.  However, with the recent passage of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,  the value of an estate that is exempt from federal taxes doubled this basic amount, along with an index for inflation. HB308/SB646 decouples Maryland’s estate tax from the federal estate tax.  The bill limits the amount of the exclusion from Maryland estate tax for estates with a value of up to $5 million.  Certain amendments to the bill authorize the portability of...

New Law Untangles Health Care and Divorce

NEW LAW UNTANGLES HEALTH CARE DECISIONS FOR DIVORCING SPOUSES As of October 1, 2017, legislation that will likely change the drafting of separation and marital settlement agreements is in effect. This new law, is entitled Health Care Decisions Act – Advance Directives and Surrogate Decision Making – Disqualified Individuals. The new law imposes prohibitions on specific individuals from serving as health care agents or surrogate health care decision makers for their spouses. The individuals who would be disqualified are those who – in relation to the patient – are subjects of protective orders. But this new law goes beyond cases involving domestic violence. The new law also disqualifies a spouse when he or she has signed a separation agreement with the patient or when an application for divorce has been filed by either the patient or the spouse of the patient. The impact of this new law may only affect a small number of divorcing couples, but it is nevertheless an important change. While it is not a universal phenomenon, in the event of a serious medical crisis, most people who are separating or divorcing would prefer to have someone other than an estranged spouse serve as his or her health care agent or surrogate health care decision maker. Before this new law went into effect, a spouse was deemed to be automatically the first in line as a “surrogate decision maker” for health care matters if the patient had not previously executed an advance directive. The new law may permit a spouse to serve as a health care agent following the execution of a separation agreement or filing...

Adventures in Annapolis

At the stroke of midnight on April 10, the Maryland General Assembly concluded its work for the regular 2017 session. While the busy legislative season is officially over for the year, some legislators are suggesting that a special session may be on the horizon to address certain unfinished business dealing with obtaining licenses for medical marijuana and with terminating parental rights when children are conceived through nonconsensual sex. Calling for a special session is the prerogative of the Governor. While we can’t know if he will call for a special session, we are assured that Governor Hogan’s staff has been busily reviewing bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly to determine, among other things, that the bills meet the requirements of the United States and Maryland Constitutions. The final result of this review process will be concluded in May when we will know for sure which bills will receive the Governor’s approval, which bills will go into effect without his signature, and which bills will be vetoed. In the 2017 session, a great deal of attention was focused on earned paid sick leave, fracking, bail, and the looming presence of President Trump and the impact he may exercise in Maryland. Bi-partisanship was in evidence in terms of budget matters; the General Assembly passed a budget without a great deal of wrangling. Only a few family law bills made it through the legislative process. New definitions of child abuse and neglect and new protections for victims of sex trafficking were added to the Code. Domestic violence orders in protective order proceedings may be used as evidence to prove a ground...

The Other Capital

With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president this January, most of our collective political energy this winter will be focused on Washington, DC.  But as we all know, January also brings us the opening of the 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly.  The Maryland General Assembly began officially on January 11, and although this is the third year of this Assembly, there are significant changes in the composition of legislators who will serve in the 2017 session.  These changes result mainly from the election of Senator Catherine Pugh as the new Mayor of Baltimore City because Mayor Pugh has engaged several of her former legislative colleagues to work with her administration.  In addition, certain legislators have resigned due to legal problems or illness. Others have been re-assigned to new committees. A new mix of members in the Assembly may prompt new approaches to legislative advocacy. One of the most important responsibilities of the Maryland General Assembly is to pass a budget, and this exercise will continue to engage the efforts of both the Assembly and Governor Hogan.  Other issues which likely will receive a good bit of attention this year include paid sick leave for Maryland workers, fracking, renewable energy, state-wide handling of rape kits, policing practices, management of transportation projects, and procedures for re-drawing Maryland’s congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. Advocates in the domestic violence arena will be initiating efforts to disqualify certain individuals from serving as either health care agents or surrogate decision makers for patients when these individuals are respondents in current protective order proceedings or if a divorce action has...

New Laws Go Into Effect on October 1

The recent modification of our laws by the Maryland General Assembly demonstrates the strong connection between criminal and civil law with regard to interpersonal and family relationships.  In 2016 General Assembly passed legislation that redefines the crime of stalking.  Stalking has been defined as “malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another, where the person intends to place–or knows or reasonably should have known the 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.”   With the passage of this new legislation, effective October 1, our Code now includes language that the person charged with stalking “intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress.” What are the kinds of anti-social behaviors experienced by victims of stalking?  The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, prepared a special report which identified and measured seven stalking behaviors that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. 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 acts individually may not be criminal, collectively and repetitively these behaviors may cause a victim to fear for his or her safety...