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Governor Hogan Signs Bills Passed in 2016

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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 planning documents with the Maryland Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act will likely reduce the difficulties that can occur in the wake of disability or death to manage important materials that we all use routinely.

Another interesting bill signed by the Governor significantly modernizes Maryland’s divorce law.  Beginning October 1, 2016, the moving party in a divorce case (the plaintiff) will no longer be required to provide corroboration of the ground for divorce.  For example, right now in a case where the parties have lived separate and apart for the one-year period needed to meet the requirement of this ground for divorce, the plaintiff must provide evidence – typically through testimony of a witness – that the parties have indeed lived in two separate abodes and have not engaged in sexual relations for the one year of separation.   When the new law goes into effect, the plaintiff does not need to present this information to the court to obtain a decree of absolute divorce.

In comparison with other states, Maryland has created significant barriers to dissolve a marriage.  Famously, it was only in the late 1990’s that a spouse could file for an absolute divorce based on the ground of cruelty of treatment, another way of referring to domestic violence.  The requirement for corroboration of grounds for an absolute divorce was designed to prevent spouses from colluding and to make it a bit cumbersome to get a divorce easily.  While the decision to file for an absolute divorce is never an easy one, this new statute modernizes Maryland’s code to allow for individuals to move forward with their lives with less difficulty.