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How to Prepare for Your Divorce or Custody Case

It is important to begin preparing for your case as soon as possible. One critical component is discovery, the process of getting information from the other party (your spouse) before trial.

Through discovery you may request information and documents from your spouse to use as evidence at trial. Discovery can be acquired by requesting certain documents or by asking questions of the other party, either in writing (interrogatories) or in person (deposition).

At a minimum, you and your spouse will have to divide up your assets. To do that you will need to make a list of marital property. Marital property includes any assets that were acquired during the marriage, regardless of who is listed on the title or who paid for it. This could include money (cash, bank accounts, retirement accounts, pension, life insurance), real estate (primary residence, and any other property), vehicles (car, motorcycle, and any other vehicles), business assets, and other tangible personal property (furniture, etc.).

Assets acquired outside of the marriage are considered non-marital property. These include those assets acquired before marriage, inheritance, gifts from someone other than your spouse, and any property obtained during the marriage using funds from one of the above.  If you and your spouse agree on how to divide your marital property, you may consider drafting a Marital Settlement Agreement Form CC-DR-116 (md courts.gov). This agreement will set forth how you and your spouse would like the property to be distributed rather than asking a judge to make that decision for you. You may also want to review the Financial Statement Form CC-DR-031 (mdcourts.gov) which is sometimes a required court filing, as it can assist you in identifying your and your spouse’s expenses and assets. If you and your spouse do not agree on how the marital property should be divided, you and your spouse will need to complete a “Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property” Form CC-DR-033 (mdcourts.gov), and the court will determine how to divide the property.

In addition to identifying the property, this form will require an estimate of Fair Market Value (FMV) and an indication of whether there are debts associated with the property (e.g., mortgage, car loan). You can use the tax assessment for real estate and the Kelly Blue Book value for vehicles. Clients who have debt at the time of the divorce are jointly liable if the debt is in both names. Courts, however, cannot divide debts between spouses in a divorce but, rather can use the debt in deciding how to divide assets.

If you are seeking alimony as a part of your divorce settlement, you must specifically ask the court for alimony and must be able to prove you need it. The court will look at several factors such as the length of your marriage, the earning capacity of both spouses, financial needs, income and expenses, and the ability of the spouse who is seeking alimony to become self-sufficient and to become employed. Gathering bank account information, receipts, income pay stubs and other documentation, such as medical records/social security disability benefits will help you be prepared and organized when requesting an alimony award. The above Financial Statement must be filed when requesting an alimony award. Form CC-DR-031 (mdcourts.gov).

If you are seeking child custody, you should consider the following in preparation for your custody court proceedings.  Preparing a Parenting Plan is a requirement and will help both parents decide how the children will spend their time with each parent following a divorce or separation and is usually provided to the parents at the first court hearing. See Parenting Plan CC-DR-109 (mdcourts.gov).  A “Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision Making Authority and Parenting Time” is also required. Form CC-DR-110 (mdcourt.gov).

The parent who has physical custody of the children will receive child support from the other parent. If you and your spouse do not agree on child support, you will need to provide the court with the following information about monthly income and expenses such as total income before taxes, child support paid for other children, alimony paid to former spouses, health insurance premium for your children, work-related child-care expenses, extraordinary health expenses, and school and transportation expenses. 

Make sure to consider income from all sources, including wages, tips, self-employment, and government benefits (Social Security, unemployment, disability). Do not include public assistance benefits such as SNAP or AFDC. You will need proof of each source of income, such as recent pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s, or Social Security benefit reports.

“Extraordinary medical expenses” include any uninsured expenses over $250 per year, including things like orthodontia, medical care for chronic health conditions, and mental health counseling. “School expenses” include only K-12 education that is required to meet the child’s particular educational needs. “Transportation expenses” include the anticipated cost of transporting the children between the homes of each parent. See Form CC-DR-030 (mdcourts.gov).

To speak to an attorney about your situation or for help with completing forms, call the Maryland Family Law Hotline at 1(800) 845-8550 or visit the Family Law Self Help Center located in the Maryland Circuit Court where you will be opening your case or filing your response.

For additional information and court forms pertaining to divorce child support, custody, and visitation, and instructions for completing the forms, visit Family Law Court Forms (mdcourts.gov) or Family Law (peoples-law.org) and Maryland Custody & Divorce Client Workbook (peoples-law.org). You may also contact Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service provides legal assistance for those in tax sale. You can contact our intake line at 410-547-6537 or apply online at https://mvlslaw.org/free-legal-help/.