At DWS Law Group, we are committed to supporting you through your family law matter. We are aware of the sensitive nature of family-related legal disputes, and we are prepared to guide clients toward appropriate and productive solutions with discretion, respect and sensitivity.
A “limited divorce” authorizes spouses to live in separate homes and get court orders about some financial and custody issues while the spouses remain husband and wife. An absolute divorce is a final, permanent divorce where all issues related to alimony, child custody, child support and property distribution are handled by the court. After a person is granted an absolute divorce, that individual is free to remarry.
A common-law marriage is recognized for federal tax purposes if it is recognized by the state or
jurisdiction where the taxpayers currently live, or in the state where the common-law marriage began. Common-law marriage can still be contracted in the District of Columbia, but not in Virginia and Maryland.
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive or coercive behaviors that are used by one individual to exert power or control over another individual in the context of a family or intimate relationship. A protective order is often only the first step in a domestic abuse claim. Physical abuse allegations can become grounds for divorce.
Following an adoption, all legal ties between the child and the birth parents are permanently severed. The new adoptive parents and the child are treated just like a natural family in the eyes of the law. State statutes govern adoption proceedings, and the substantive and procedural rules vary across the area.
A guardianship is a legal relationship created when a person or institution named in a will or assigned by the court to take care of minor children or incompetent adults. DWS law attorneys proves beneficial for individuals going through this process.
When a court awards exclusive child custody to one parent, the non-custodial parent maintains the right to see and visit the child, absent extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes, a child custody or visitation order becomes impractical or inappropriate. In these situations, you may be able to change the terms and conditions of the order. DWS attorneys can help you negotiate with the other parent, file a petition for modification, and present a compelling case on your behalf. When a court awards exclusive child custody to one parent, the non-custodial parent maintains the right to see and visit the child, absent extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes, a child custody or visitation order becomes impractical or inappropriate. In these situations, you may be able to change the terms and conditions of the order. DWS attorneys can help you negotiate with the other parent, file a petition for modification, and present a compelling case on your behalf.
The amount of child support paid by noncustodial parents is determined at the state level. Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia use the Income Shares Model. Determination of child support universally includes the needs of the child - including health insurance, education, day care, and special needs, as well as the income and needs of the custodial parent. But the paying parent's ability to pay can also come into play.
A prenuptial agreement (“pre-nup”) is made before the marriage while a postnuptial agreement (“post-nup”) is made after the wedding. In these agreements, you and your spouse disclose to each other all the money and property you own before getting married. Then, you set forth the rights and responsibilities each of you will have during the marriage, including how you will divide your money and property in the event of divorce or the death of one or both of you.
Child relocation can be traumatic for families affected by divorce and separation. A child’s relocation may disrupt a child’s bonds to her non-custodial parent, as well as to community, school, and friends. It may also aggravate tensions between cooperating ex-partners. If parents are unable to reach an agreement on custody and visitation after relocation, courts will step in. Maryland, DC, and Virginia apply different factors in deciding whether to allow a child’s relocation. They also differ in their requirements for giving advance notice of a proposed relocation and mechanisms a non-custodial parent can use to oppose relocation. In all cases, however, courts will use the “best interest of the child” as the primary criterion in deciding whether to allow relocation. In this regard, courts will weigh such factors as maintaining stability of the child’s relationship with the custodial parent, the disruption to the child’s life caused by the relocation, the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent, the child’s wishes, and the economic opportunities that prompted the proposed relocation. Upon such consideration, a court may change primary custody or award the non-custodial parent more generous custody and visitation to make up for less frequent visits after relocation.
Using its sophisticated knowledge of custody law, DWS can counsel and represent custodial and non-custodial parents in protecting their and their children’s rights and interests in the event of a relocation.
Courts in D.C., MD, and VA require strict compliance with orders for child and spousal support and custody. Parents must abide by a court’s order or risk being held in civil or criminal contempt of court. In response to a contempt motion filed by a parent or governmental authority, courts may order a noncompliant parent to accept employment and even be incarcerated in serious cases. Courts can impose other sanctions such as modifying a custody and visitation order to compensate one parent for previous violations and requiring a noncompliant parent to pay attorney fees and costs. DWS can counsel parents on how to avoid contempt actions and represent them in filing motions for contempt.
A couple with little hope of reconciliation may privately enter into an oral or written agreement to live apart. This is typically called a marital settlement agreement, separation agreement, or property settlement agreement. When the ground for divorce is voluntary separation, a separation agreement may be used as evidence to obtain the divorce.
A separation agreement should provide for the following:
• The care, custody and support of the children;
• The amount of support one spouse will contribute to the other;
• Provisions for continuation of health insurance benefits; and;
• The division of property while the husband and wife are living apart, including what will happen to the property upon divorce.
Revoking a Settlement Agreement
The separation agreement can be revoked by a second agreement in writing or simply by the parties living together again as husband and wife. Living together does not automatically revoke the agreement; it is only evidence of an intention to revoke it.
Enforcing a Settlement Agreement
If one party violates a settlement agreement, the other may bring a lawsuit for violation of the agreement, alleging a breach of contract. To ensure enforceability in the family courts, however, the parties should have the separation agreement incorporated, but not merged, into the divorce decree.
Alimony is a periodic payment by one former spouse to the other. The purpose of alimony is to provide an opportunity for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. If alimony is awarded, it is usually “rehabilitative alimony” for a certain period of time to allow a dependent spouse to become self-supporting.
Alimony can be awarded only before the final ending of the marriage. Failure to make a claim for alimony as part of a divorce means that you cannot come back later after the marriage has ended and start an alimony claim.
Types of alimony
• Alimony pendente lite
• Rehabilitative alimony
• Indefinite alimony
Amount of Alimony
The court will consider a long list of factors in deciding if you or your spouse should get alimony. These factors include: Length of your marriage; Your financial situation during the marriage, now and in the future; Your age, physical and mental health; and the reasons for the divorce.
All property obtained during the course of the marriage is marital property, regardless of who paid for it. The exception to this general rule is property received by one spouse as a gift, inheritance from a third party, or excluded by a valid agreement. As stated above, this property is considered non-marital property. Marital property can include real estate, bank accounts, stock, furniture, pensions and retirement assets, cars and other personal property.
Non-Marital Property is any property obtained prior to the marriage. It remains the property of the party who owned it prior to the marriage. Non-marital property remains non-marital as long as it is not gifted or titled to the other spouse. Also, any property received by a spouse by gift or inheritance during the marriage from a third party remains the non-marital property of that spouse unless gifted or titled to the other spouse.
Eligibility: You must be the spouse of a wage earner who is receiving retirement or disability benefits, and meet one of the following:
• you were married at least one year or
• you had a child with the wage earner or
• you were already eligible for Social Security benefits on another account in the month before the marriage
• you are 62 or older or
• you have the wage earner's child who is entitled to benefits in your care, and the child is either
• under 16 or
• is disabled.
If you might be eligible for benefits under your spouse’s pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, it will be necessary to consult with a lawyer who specializes in this type of case.
Divorce mediation is a time-limited, confidential process in which both you and your spouse meet with a neutral third person (the mediator) who helps you decide on the division of parenting responsibilities, where your children will live, when your children will spend time with each parent, how parenting decisions will be made, and the financial issues of property and support. Mediation may be voluntarily chosen by the parties or it may be ordered by the Court in litigation. Whether Court ordered or voluntarily chosen, mediation is voluntary in that the parties may, but are not required, to reach an agreement about the disputed issues. The goal of mediation is to reach an agreement, the terms of which are in the parties’ control. In litigation, decision-making is turned over to a Judge or Master, who will make the decision for the parties.
Collaborative law, is a legal process enabling couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage to work with their lawyers and, on occasion, other family professionals in order to avoid the uncertain outcome of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children without the underlying threat of litigation. The process allows parties to have a fair settlement. The voluntary process is initiated when the couple signs "participation agreement" binding each other to the process and disqualifying their respective lawyer's right to represent either one in any future family-related litigation.