Annapolis Marital Property Divison Lawyer

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Marital Property Division Attorney in Annapolis

During most marriages, the parties accumulate property in the course of building a life together. That property may include assets that are both large and small. If the parties divorce after a long marriage, then the amount of such property may be great. A divorce usually creates uncertainty as to how these things will be divided fairly.

In any divorce case, the court will divide only marital property. Marital property is property that the parties acquired and paid for between the date of the marriage and the date of the divorce. Marital property can include houses, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, businesses, furniture, artwork, jewelry, animals, and anything else of value. In divorce cases, the court is charged with the task of identifying the marital property, assigning a value to it, and dividing it fairly between the parties. Marital property is usually divided at the end of the case as a result of a trial or an agreement between the parties.

Do not try to represent yourself.

A party that attempts to represent himself or herself without an attorney in a divorce case involving a property dispute is taking a huge risk. That party will likely make a less persuasive case and receive a less favorable outcome than otherwise. After the process is completed, an unrepresented party will likely wonder if a better outcome could have been obtained with a divorce attorney.

Having an experienced attorney from the start is extremely important. Only an attorney has the necessary understanding of the law and the court process. An attorney will guide you through the process, advocate for you at every opportunity, and make a forceful case for you at trial if necessary. When the process ends, you likely will have peace of mind and a much better outcome.

Hire a skilled and aggressive attorney.

Patrick is not like other divorce attorneys. Patrick has a boutique legal practice in which he provides high-quality service to a small number of clients. His practice is small, and that is how he likes it. He is the only attorney in his office. Having a small practice allows Patrick to provide a highly personalized service in which he gets to know each client and delivers representation that is tailored to achieve that client’s unique goals. He has spent the last 14 years handling divorce cases, many of which involved complicated property disputes. He has represented his clients in all stages of their cases, including settlement, trial, and appeal. He is aggressive while also being careful to avoid wasteful efforts and strategies that usually serve only to increase the client’s legal fees. Patrick directs his efforts in a focused and intelligent way on things that are most important to the client and that are calculated to bring results. He invites his clients to participate meaningfully in setting the case direction, he is friendly, and he is responsive.

Maryland is an equitable property state

In the United States, different states treat the division of marital property differently. Some are “community property” states, where courts always divide marital property equally between the parties. Maryland is not a community property state. Instead Maryland is an “equitable property” state, where courts always divide marital property equitably, or fairly. This means that Maryland courts divide marital property based on what is fair under the circumstances. In most cases, a fair division is one that is equal, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes courts decide to give one spouse more marital property than the other. Examples of situations in which a court may divide marital property unequally include one in which a party acted badly by causing the breakup of the marriage, or situations in which a party deliberately wasted or destroyed marital property.

Importance of title to property division

The court will divide marital property without regard to title. In other words, the fact that “something is in my name” has no relevance to whether it is marital property. The court determines the identity of marital property based solely on whether it was acquired or paid-for by one of the parties during the marriage. Parties who “keep their assets separate” will not necessarily be able to shield their assets from division in a divorce case.

Gift, inheritance, or agreement

Three categories of things are never marital property and are therefore not subject to division. They include things acquired by gift from a third-party, things acquired by inheritance, and things excluded by a written agreement. They also include things that can be traced to any of these things. So, as an example, if someone receives $10,000 as a gift from their aunt during their marriage, that money is not marital property and their spouse will not receive part of it in a divorce case. If the same person uses the money to buy a car for $10,000, the car is traceable to such money and is similarly not marital property.

Property acquired during separation

Marital property includes all property acquired up until the date of divorce. Logically, that also includes anything that either party acquired during the separation period, and even during the trial. For this reason, you should be careful what you purchase during any period of separation and even during the pendency of a divorce case.

Division of Financial Accounts

Financial accounts include all checking, savings, brokerage, investment and retirement accounts. At trial, the court will divide all financial accounts containing funds that were acquired or earned during the marriage. Sometimes accounts contain some funds that were deposited before the marriage and some funds that were deposited after the marriage, therefore such accounts may be partly marital and partly non-marital.

Division of Retirement Accounts

Division of retirement accounts occurs in the same way as other accounts except that they are more complicated. One reason is that the funds in some retirement accounts have not been subject to income tax and, therefore, their value is uncertain. A second reason is that financial institutions are usually prohibited from transferring retirement funds from one spouse to another without receiving a court order. Such a court order is sometimes called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. Special skill is required to draft such an order.

Division of real property

Real property includes any property associated with land, including houses, condominiums, and empty lots. At trial, the court will divide the equity in real property if it finds that such equity was acquired or paid for during the marriage. Sometimes houses and other real property are paid for in part before the marriage and in part after the marriage. In such a case, the equity would be partly marital and partly non-marital.

Division of personal property

Personal property includes all tangible property that is not associated with land. It includes all vehicles, furniture, and all items that people keep in their homes. At trial, the court may divide such items if the court finds that they were acquired and paid for during the marriage. Parties rarely dispute the division of small items such as clothes and dishes. However, they often dispute more expensive items such as vehicles and jewelry.

Monetary award

At trial, when dividing marital property, the court will usually not transfer title to the property. Therefore, each spouse will likely keep all property to which they have title. The property that is titled jointly will usually be ordered to be sold and the proceeds divided. The court then must make the total division “fair”. To to so, the court may grant a “monetary award.” A monetary award is a payment of money that the court orders one party to make to the other in order to adjust the amount of marital property that each party has and to make the total division fair.

In the course of determining the amount of a monetary award, the court must consider numerous factors. Such factors include:

  • The contributions of each party to the well-being of the family.
  • The value of all property interests of each party.
  • The economic circumstances of each party.
  • The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The age of each party.
  • The physical and mental condition of each party.
  • How and when specific marital property was acquired.
  • The contribution by either party of non-marital property to the acquisition of real property.
  • Any award of alimony.
  • Any award of family use property.

Family use property

If the parties have a child that lived in their house during the marriage, and if one party receives custody, the court may grant to such party “use and possession” of the house for up to three years on the grounds that the house is “family use property.” The purpose of use and possession is to give the child additional stability by allowing the child to continue living in a home to which the child is accustomed. During such time, the court would refrain from dividing the house and would grant to the custodial parent exclusive right to live in the house with the child. The court may also order the other party to pay the mortgage. The court would likely order that, at the end of the use and possession period, the house be divided as normal.

Property agreements

Parties often try to reach a written agreement on how to divide marital property instead of allowing the court to divide it. Doing so has many advantages. It allows the parties to avoid the risk that the court will divide the property in a way that the parties do not want. It also allows the parties to save the time and expense associated with litigating their property dispute all the way to trial.

In general, parties can enter into two kinds of agreements in their divorce case. They are:

  • Prenuptial agreement
  • Separation agreement

A prenuptial agreement is one that the parties reach before they get married in order to establish their rights in the unfortunate situation that they later decide to get divorced. A separation agreement, on the other hand, is one that the parties reach when they are separating and anticipate obtaining a divorce. Both agreements often provide detailed terms related to alimony and the division of marital property. An attorney can be extremely valuable in negotiating and drafting such agreements.

Discovery

In any divorce case in which property is being divided, both parties have the right to conduct discovery. Discovery is the process of compelling the other party to provide information that may help one’s case. Discovery can occur in several different ways, including with interrogatories, requests for documents, and depositions. Discovery can also include obtaining documents from outside sources like employers and financial institutions. Discovery can sometimes uncover information that the other party is trying to hide. In any divorce case involving division of property, discovery is extremely important because a lot of detailed information is required in order to make a persuasive case to the court.

Contempt of Court

When the court orders that marital property be divided a certain way, and when a party fails to comply, then, in order to enforce the property division, the other party may file a petition for contempt of court. Contempt of court is a finding that a party was court ordered to do something and failed to do it. When the court orders that a party is in contempt for failing to divide marital property, it will continue to hold them in contempt until they “purge” the contempt. In addition to requiring that they purge the contempt, the court may also impose other penalties. Such penalties may include paying the other party’s attorney fees.

Attorney Fees

In any divorce case involving the division of marital property, multiple opportunities exist for either party to request that the court order the other party to pay some or all of that party’s attorney fees. Often a party has an immediate need for attorney fees and cannot wait until the end of a long case in order to receive it. In this case the party may request pendente lite attorney fees. Or the party may choose to make the request at the end of the case. In either situation, the court will decide whether it is fair to grant such request based on multiple factors. The main factors include:

  • Whether the requesting party had a good-faith basis for pursuing his or her case.
  • Whether the requesting party needs assistance paying for his or her attorney.
  • Whether the other party has the ability to pay.

Marital property division is complicated.

Marital property division is complicated. Sorting out marital versus non-marital property and valuing the marital property can be complex and tedious. Making a persuasive case regarding the division of marital property often requires an enormous amount of work and organization. An experienced divorce attorney is usually necessary in order to make such a case.

Contact Patrick Crawford today.

Regardless of how complex the marital property issues are in your divorce case, Patrick is an Annapolis Marital Property Divison Lawyer ready and eager to provide you with aggressive and personalized representation. He will discuss your goals with you and work tirelessly to secure a bright post-divorce future for you. Contact him today.

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