Whether you divorce occurs in Howard County or any other jurisdiction throughout Maryland, you will be under the scrutiny of both a Master and a Judge if you have a divorce trial. How you act actually begins before you ever separate.
Judges get inundated with emails, social media posts, as well as actions taken with bank accounts, and other assets and debts. They will then make decisions about your credibility on the issues in your case, whether it is child custody issues or money issues, ranging from alimony and child support to distribution of assets and whether to award attorneys’ fees.
Make a good impression, but remember, it is very difficult for a zebra to change his or her stripes. More likely than not, how you portrayed yourself before your separation will likely be what a judge focuses on when your credibility is an issue.
I love giving lists of do’s and don’ts to my clients to help them maintain their credibility throughout the divorce process. Obviously, each case has its own set of rules, but as a general rule, here are a few good rules to follow during divorce:
· Maintain good communication with your spouse and children.
· Talk to your lawyer before agreeing to a settlement.
· Keep your perspective
· Stay rational
· Take care of yourself physically and emotionally
· Have a team in place to help you with financial and other issues
· Never physically or verbally abuse your spouse or children.
· Never say or write down anything to others that you wouldn’t want your spouse or the judge to hear. My gosh, if I had a nickel for every email, Facebook post, tweet or social media post I have read in a divorce case, let’s just say I wouldn’t “need” this job, I would be so wealthy.
· Maintain the financial status quo where possible. Don’t go on a spending spree. Excessive spending on yourself or others may harm your case.
· Please do not involve others in an inappropriate way into your family’s problems.
· Make sure you never throw away financial records or other possible evidence.
· Never try to hide evidence or assets. You rarely get aware with it, and it pisses off judges so badly that you may not get a fair shake in your divorce, both in terms of money issues or custody.
After the Divorce
When your divorce case ends, most future changes will be governed by the “material change” standard, which means has there has to be a material change since the last Court Order/divorce decree to the present.
As long as you have children under 18, there can always be a modification of legal or physical custody, visitation or child support if a material change has been alleged and ultimately proven.
Alimony can be changed, but the legal standards for a modification or termination and alimony can be quite stringent, including a standard that includes proof of harsh and unreasonable circumstances. That will be the subject of its own blog, as all of you out there paying or receiving “indefinite” alimony need to know the status of the law.
Whether the issues in your divorce are settled by you and your spouse or whether they are decided by a judge, some aspects of your judgment can be modified (changed) by a judge after a hearing. Usually, child support, alimony, child custody, and child visitation can be modified, but only if one of you can show that there has been a change in circumstances.
Usually, the division of your property from your divorce is not going to subject to modification. Importantly, if you and your spouse have agreed that alimony shall not be modifiable, and you use the appropriate “magic words” in your agreement to that effect, the Howard County Circuit Court judges, as well as the judges of the other jurisdictions in the State of Maryland, should follow that agreement.
Why am I telling you all of this, when the topic of this blog is how to act during and after your divorce?
The reason is what you do, say and how you maintain your finances after the divorce could result in a modification proceeding. For example, if you have joint custody of your children, yet after the divorce, you are bad-mouthing your former spouse all over email and social media, you should expect your former spouse to eventually seek sole custody based on your conduct.
There is usually a premium on civility, but honestly, there are always exceptions in high conflict cases, which appear rampant in high income cases and cases where there are either diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues.