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...

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...

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...

Reflections on Winter Growth

Like many of us after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I experience a bit of a let-down.  All of the busyness associated with the end of the year fades as we gear up to endure the long darkness and cold temperatures of the winter months.  As I write this brief note, I am sitting at my desk and feeling both uncomfortable and at peace.  I am uncomfortable because after the huge storm we encountered throughout the East Coast and clean up that followed, my telephone, television, and internet are out of order.  A snow plow inadvertently cut my line.  As a result, I feel somewhat isolated.  At the same time, I am at peace because I have found a way to remedy this temporary inconvenience to communicate with my clients appropriately (cell phones are truly a blessing) and I am also enjoying a bit of a break from the rapid pace of modern life. While I am generally not a fan of a huge drift of snow that impedes freedom of movement, I do appreciate its value.  Snow also functions as a protective blanket to cover the earth to allow it to rest and prepare for a season of growth in the spring.  So, too, can we learn from the winter season accept some of the tedium that may precede change.   A whirlwind of activity by itself does not necessarily mean productivity. In applying this lesson from nature, it is my hope to reflect thoughtfully instead of reacting immediately to any situation whether it pertains to my life or the concerns of my clients.  While occasionally emergencies...

Giving Can Be a Challenge

As we close the year and prepare for the holidays, all of us are typically bombarded with messages to give, give, give. All of this is worthy, but when you stop to think about it, giving can be really hard. Thinking about the ‘perfect gift’ for a friend or family member can be exhausting. Figuring out which charity or cause to support can be daunting because there are so many people who do good work to improve our community. Fortunately for me, I have had the opportunity as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation of Howard County to learn about philanthropy. As a member of the Foundation’s Grants Committee, I participate in the review and evaluation of multiple applications from various non-profit agencies seeking support from the Foundation. Working with other members of the Grants Committee, we evaluate each proposal in terms of its purpose, budget, and how it fits with the mission of the Foundation: to inspire lifelong giving and to connect people, places and organizations to worthy causes in Howard County. The thorough preparation by the staff of the Foundation has made this task manageable, but the effort to pick and choose among many worthy entities remains considerable. While no final decisions by the Foundation have been made for this year, I am so honored to be a part of this process. Giving can be a challenge.  Happily, the Community Foundation of Howard County simplifies this endeavor. P.S. For most people, I have noticed that chocolate is generally a winner. I hope you receive your perfect gift this holiday...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: The Unexpected Benefits of Divorce

Now that we are truly in the midst of the fall season, we can see that the initial tumult associated with back to school has somewhat subsided.  As children settle into their academic year, most of us see the value of reasonable routines and predictability. Benefits derived from the re-organization of a family while adults, along with their children, are in the midst of separation and divorce appear to be counter-intuitive.  Most people would agree that such a re-organization of the family unit is both painful and disappointing.  Many fear that the impact on children is devastating.  Why would anyone think that divorce is a good thing? I recently read an interesting article written by an adult whose parents divorced when she was a young girl.  The author was careful to emphasize that her parents engaged in a cooperative divorce, but even under these circumstances, the transition in her family required great effort to achieve a new equilibrium.  In commenting about how her parents’ divorce affected her, the author noted on several impacts on her that are rarely addressed in the public discussions about divorce.  It gave me pause and I would like to share her reflections with you. She noted that the first most obvious benefit to her was the cessation of continual conflict in her home.  When her parents separated, she experienced immediate relief from the constant tension in her home even though her parents tried very hard to refrain from arguing in front of her.  As time passed, she also noticed that because her parents were separated, she could better relate to each of them as individuals. ...