Who Makes the Survivor Benefit Selections?

In a divorce case, a pension survivor benefit is an asset which is in play for division. Recently the Maryland Court of Special Appeals struck down a decision of the Carroll County Circuit Court which determined that a former husband had the right to make a selection of the options available for a survivor benefit which had been assigned to his wife. The appeals court held that the Circuit Court, among other things, had to look at what a reasonable person interpreting the parties’ agreement would have decided. This case illustrates that division of retirement benefits is a complicated process and is best accomplished when experienced divorce lawyers are involved in preparing the property settlement agreements.

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Reasons Needed for Denial of Lawyer Fees

In a recent unreported Maryland Court of Special Appeals Case the trial court in a divorce case awarded no attorney’s fees to a wife after awarding her alimony. The appeals court held that this decision was erroneous. The appeals court made this determination because it claimed the proper analysis was not performed by the trial judge. This was because the husband had equity in the parties home that was to be sold, had significantly higher income, had a lack of living expenses, and his wife had considerable debt. As a result the appeals court determined that the trial court needed to conduct an analysis of the financial status and respective needs of the parties in order to justify its denial of attorney’s fees to appellant.

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Custody Can Be Resolved When Parties Reside Together

In a recent unreported case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals determined that a court can make custody determinations while the mother and father continue to reside together. This case involved some unique facts, however, this case is a marked change from prior treatment of custody disputes.

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Sexual Abuse Conviction Does Not Alter Visitation

In an appeal of a divorce and custody decision in Prince George’s County, The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently held that a father’s dishonesty concerning a conviction for sexual abuse of an adult does not result in mandatory modification of a visitation schedule mandating that the father have tiebreaker authority in certain decisions. Instrumental in the appellate court’s determination was the fact that the court had ample evidence before it concerning the conviction at the time the initial determination was made.

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A Price is Paid for Falsely Claiming Domestic Violence

It is well known that some people often falsely allege assault or other acts of domestic violence in order to remove their spouse or domestic partner from the home or gain sole or primary custody of a child.  In the recent custody case of Rex v. Rex, an unreported case decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. A mother filed several meritless order of protection proceedings against the father and took other actions to deny him access to his child. As a result, the trial court held that the mother manipulated the visitation schedule for no sound reason and granted the father primary residential custody during the school year. This decision was upheld by the appellate court.

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Grandparents Can Get Custody (It takes a Crazy Situation)

In a recently decided unreported Maryland Court of Special Appeals Decision the appellate court upheld the trial court’s determination to award the grandparents custody of the biological parent’s child. The trial court indicated that it awarded the grandparents custody because of the “craziness” in the parents’ house. Among other things, another woman lived with the parents and engaged in a sexual relationship with both of them; The mother engaged in sex with another man besides her husband; the parents used marijuana and other drugs; and, the child spent long periods of time away from both parents.

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His Name Wasn’t Bad Enough

In a recent unreported case the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a Circuit Court decision which found that a father’s conviction of a sex offense involving his wife’s 14-year-old sister did not warrant a change of his child’s name. The Court of Special Appeals determined that the sex offense did constitute the type of “extreme circumstances” which allowed the court to consider a name change. However, when considering all factors, including the support of the father’s extended family a name change was not warranted.

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Get to Work!

In the recent case of St. Cyr v. St. Cyr, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a determination that a wife involved in a divorce case was capable of earning income of $10 an hour despite the fact that she had cancer (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and had not worked for years. The court indicated that the wife was voluntarily impoverished and that the determination regarding earning capacity involves a certain amount of speculation.

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Court Says Divorce Acceptable When Statutory Separation Did Not Occur

The recent unreported case of Ziegler v. Ziegler decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals discusses several divorce issues. In Zeigler, the trial court granted a divorce on grounds of 12 month separation. The trial court did this despite the fact that the period of a protective order was included in the calculation of the separation period. While the Court of Special Appeals concluded that this calculation was erroneous, it also concluded that the granting of the divorce did not prejudice the party seeking the appeal. Perhaps more significantly, the court indicated that a corroborating witness need not have knowledge of the entire period of separation and reinforced the notion that corroboration only needs to be slight.

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Confirming the Obvious

The recent case of Oganov v. Oganov involved an appeal from a decision of Judge Cynthia Callahan of the Montgomery County Circuit Court. Judge Callahan awarded sole legal and primary physical custody to the mother. The mother appealed, apparently being concerned that  the use of the language “primary physical” diminished her status as sole legal custodian. The Court of Special Appeals held that the use of this language did not impact this status and dismissed the appeal.

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