Below we have outlined the typical stages of a typical Maryland divorce proceeding. Please note that the information provided below is intended as a general overview of the litigation process and is not an all-inclusive guide. Thus, you are cautioned that as your own individual divorce case proceeds forward through the courts, the information below may become less appropriate for your case.
A divorce proceeding begins when one party, the Plaintiff, files a complaint with the court. The complaint sets out the reasons why the party believes they are entitled to a divorce and may request the court grant alimony, child support, and other relief as necessary. The key considerations at this stage are: jurisdiction, venue, filing fees, and service of process. Additionally, other filings may be required depending on the relief sought in the Complaint (e.g. financial statements, etc.).
The Defendant spouse thereafter is required to file an answer to the divorce complaint within 30 days if served in Maryland, 60 days if served out of state, or 90 days if served out of the country.
If the Defendant spouse fails to answer the divorce complaint in the required time, the Plaintiff may file a request to proceed with a default divorce based on the Defendant spouse's lack of response to the complaint. If a default order is entered, then the case may proceed to trial on the issue of divorce.
Maryland Court forms can be found here: https://mdcourts.gov/family/family-forms.
After the Defendant files an Answer, the Court will set a Scheduling Conference. This conference takes place before a Judge or Master (which recommends what the Judge should order) and helps the court keep track of your case and schedule future steps. Often, the Court will ask the parties what issues are in dispute (e.g. custody, support, divorce grounds, etc.), determine if any special services are required (e.g. custody evaluations, drug testing and/or mediation), and set deadlines and hearing dates for the case.
Discovery is a process where both parties have the opportunity to find out more information on the other party's case before trial. This is primarily done through interrogatories (written questions that require written responses) and requests for production of documents; however, there are many other tools and legal channels that can be pursued as well. This is an area where skilled and experienced legal counsel can truly provide value.
Following discovery and shortly before trial, the Court will set a Settlement Conference. A Settlement Conference is a hearing in which the Court attempts to facilitate a settlement to avoid trial. During the Settlement Conference, the parties will meet before a neutral official who will act as a facilitator to help the parties reach an agreement. It is not required that the parties reach an agreement at a Settlement Conference, however, if the parties are able to reach an agreement before trial, it leads to a cheaper and quicker resolution of the divorce for both sides. Although this hearing is set for a specific date, parties in a divorce should discuss settlements and agreements well before this date and even up until trial.
If a settlement cannot be reached before trial, then the case will proceed to a trial on the merits. During the trial, the Plaintiff has the burden of proof to demonstrate a right to the relief claimed; to wit: a divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, etc. The Plaintiff proceeds first, followed by the Defendant. If the Defendant filed a countersuit, then the Defendant has the burden of proof to demonstrate a right to the relief claimed. At the end of the trial, the Judge will weigh all the evidence and make a final determination and enter appropriate judgments and orders in the case. Usually, Maryland family law cases conclude with the entry of a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, a Judgment of a Limited Divorce, a Custody Order, or a Child Support Order.
SEEK LEGAL ADVICE TO UNDERSTAND THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU
Though the above discussion distills the main components of a family law case into just a few paragraphs, you should be aware that divorce cases are often very complex and may involve other steps/rights/obligations depending on the scenario. Important rights pertaining to alimony, pensions, insurance and/or marital property can be forever lost if not properly dealt with during the divorce process. As a result, the best advice is often to seek the guidance of an experienced family law attorney if you are involved in a Maryland family law matter. While most cases are handled by private attorneys, free or reduced cost legal assistance may also be available through local military installations (if military connected), not-for-profits, law schools, or court programs.
The attorneys at Patriots Law Group of Lyons & Hughes, P.C. are familiar with the divorce process and have the skills and expertise in handling divorce cases. Give us a call at (301) 952-9000 to schedule a consultation today.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular situation. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information and may not be relied upon based on the above-statements. Each individual situation is different and therefore a consultation is necessary before any advice can be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for your situation. This information is current as of November 4, 2022. Patriots Law Group of Lyons & Hughes, P.C. is responsible for this advertisement.