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,...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: Crafting Language

  As I write this paragraph, I am taking a break from drafting amendments to a bill that has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly on behalf of one of my legislative clients.  The drafting is tricky because the amendments are responding to new information gleaned through my interactions with legislators followed by additional communications with my client.  The goal of this exercise is to push the law forward so that the problem presented by the original bill introduced in the General Assembly is sufficiently addressed and at the same time to handle the objections articulated by opponents of the bill adequately so that the bill can pass the General Assembly. Crafting legal language is tedious work and requires adherence to specific stylistic conventions.  Translating thoughts into language that will be interpreted by our courts and that will ultimately affect the lives of our citizens can be difficult.  This effort is one of the most important tasks performed by attorneys and it applies not only to legislative advocacy, but to nearly all of the work that we do with respect to resolving disputes and creating documents that reflect such resolutions. As demonstrated in the Baker case discussed in the above article, courts scrutinize language contained in a contracts carefully.   To avoid ambiguity in a contract, the provisions of a contract must be expressed clearly.  A written agreement is not ambiguous merely because two parties in litigation offer different interpretations of its language, but will be found to be ambiguous if, when read by a reasonably prudent person, it is susceptible to more than one meaning. To avoid difficulties...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: Priorities

As each new year begins, we refresh goals and identify new worlds to conquer.  Our true objective fueling the new year’s burst of energy , is our heartfelt hope that this year we will faithfully join the crowd at the gym, avoid the pattern of junk food indulgences that  can follow in the wake of the Super Bowl, and bring sunshine to our days no matter what the ground hog has predicted.  In other words, deflect the routine hum-drum hibernation we experienced during last year’s cold weather — Blah! So, to that end, this year, I am trying a modest approach.  In 2015, my personal Goal #1 is managing my most precious resource, my time, both productively and meaningfully – for myself and my clients.  Trying to be both conscious and mindful is not always an easy thing to do given our competing pressures.  However, this year I am determined to better manage time, doing what is most important for the people and projects that matter. To save my clients’s time this year, I have created an informational brochure on family law topics such as divorce, separation and estate planning, in response to the questions we are most frequently asked.  These are designed as a resource to share; if you or someone you know needs information on family law, please just contact us, and we will send you a...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: Pie

As the year comes to a close and the holiday season gets into full swing, I find myself thinking of all of the many tasks that I need to accomplish before the end of this month. I also find that I am very distracted by all of the many sweets that surround me during this time. If you are like me, managing the appropriate consumption of all of these desserts is hard to do! In particular, I find pie to be very challenging. I simply adore all pies: apple, coconut, chocolate cream, pumpkin, and pecan. Can I have all the pies or must I choose among all these fantastic offerings? Well, of course, for me, it simply isn’t all about the actual pies. As I assist my clients, I am always thinking about “dividing the pie” or “growing the pie” or which “part of the pie.” And as I have learned over the years, as a general matter, we really can’t have all the pies we want – we must make choices. It is so important to think carefully to ascertain what is important for myself and to listen carefully to each of my clients when making choices. Some folks simply want more of the pie than the opposing party; some want the crust while others want the filling; and others may truly prefer cake instead of pie. There is no right or wrong here – just preferences and the limitations imposed by the law and by our general circumstances. I hope that you all find your special piece of the pie this season, enjoy it completely, and get...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: Grounds for Absolute Divorce in Maryland

As we all know, for a married person to resume his or her status as a single person, a divorce action must take place. A divorce cannot occur unless one spouse successfully asserts a legally sufficient reason that will entitle him or her to a divorce. This legally sufficient reason is called a ground for divorce. Title 7 of the Family Law Article lists the grounds for divorce in Maryland. The available grounds for divorce depend on the state where the divorce action takes place. Many people are surprised to learn that the ground of “irreconcilable differences” has no application in Maryland. In Maryland, there are several alternative grounds available when seeking an absolute, or final, divorce. The ground that is most frequently pled in Maryland is the one year separation. This is a no-fault ground and before filing a claim, the spouses are required to live separate and apart (in two different homes) for one year without interruption, without cohabitation (sexual relations), and without any expectation of reconciliation. The elements of this ground, along with the elements of other grounds for absolute divorce, must be corroborated with independent evidence, most typically through the testimony of a third party witness. With Maryland’s embrace of same sex marriage through referendum, an interesting interplay between Maryland’s statutory scheme and its case law arises when addressing the ground of adultery. While infidelity by one marriage partner with a same sex paramour is not a new form of human behavior, at the present time, Maryland’s case law does not recognize adultery to occur when a spouse in a heterosexual marriage engages sexually with...

Notes from the Desk of Cynthia Lifson

When I began my career as an attorney over 20 years ago, the trials of O.J. Simpson captivated the public’s attention. A generation has passed, and we see once again that football, money, and the complexities of intimate partnerships have prompted another national conversation about domestic violence. How have things remained the same after the passage of all this time, and how have they changed? In examining much of the commentary about Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens, I notice that most people believe that the brutal beating of Janay Palmer Rice in the hotel elevator does in fact represent domestic violence. (Interestingly, I have heard some people, although certainly a minority, suggest that because both parties were drinking alcohol, the incident in the elevator was “understandable.”) What I find so very disturbing is the nasty undercurrent in some comments about Janay. I see much tittering about the fact that she is supportive of Ray, that she actually married him after this episode occurred, and that she chooses to remain with him, the father of her child, and work out a future with him. Suddenly, the entire world just knows what the correct course of action for Janay should be. Instead of criticizing Janay’s choices, I believe that the initial question that we should be asking ourselves is this: How can anyone who loves another person do something like Ray did to Janay? While the attitude of blaming the victim of domestic violence persists, as a community we can take comfort from the fact that some positive changes have occurred. Things are better now than they were 20 years...