Divorce Laws 101: What is Divorce in Maryland and D.C.?

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Divorce is the legal process whereby a marriage is dissolved. Indeed, the final result of a divorce proceeding is obtaining an Order of Dissolution of Marriage.

Dissolving a marriage is, however, a complicated process since, while married, the couple intertwines their lives, finances, property, and affections. Thus, a divorce proceeding in Maryland and the District of Columbia also involves separating the couple’s possessions and debts and making determinations with respect to which spouse will have custody of children (if there are any resulting from the marriage). Marriages also involve the creation of expectations in terms of lifestyles and living standards. As such, a divorce proceeding also involves future-looking questions of how each spouse expects to live going forward, each spouse’s capacity for meeting those expectations, and whether one spouse should be required to help the other achieve those life goals.

From this, we see that, in addition to dissolving the marriage, divorce proceedings in Maryland/D.C. involve five basic additional issues. These are:

Property division — Maryland/D.C. divorce courts will determine what property is marital property and then make an “equitable” division of that property between the spouses; the divorce court will also equitably divide the couple’s debts; some property will be deemed “separate” property owned by one spouse or the other; that separate property will not be equitably divided.

Child custody (physical) — if there are children of the marriage, the Maryland/D.C. divorce courts will determine and order custody related to the children; this might be sole custody to one parent or some form of joint custody; visitation rights will also be determined.

Child custody (legal) — legally, custody is separated as physical custody and legal custody; physical custody involves which parent has physical control over the children, whereas legal custody involves which parent makes “life important” decisions on behalf of the children; Maryland and D.C. divorce courts often make different decisions with respect to physical and legal custody.

Child support — if there are children of the marriage, the Maryland/D.C. divorce courts will also issue an Order with respect to child support; in both Maryland and D.C., both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially and materially; a custodial parent “pays” child support by providing shelter, food, clothing, etc.; a non-custodial parent pays child support by making financial payments.

Alimony — Maryland/D.C. divorce courts will also determine whether one spouse or the other needs assistance from the other spouse post-divorce for purposes of achieving self-sufficiency or maintaining the standard of living that the spouse has become accustomed to; this is the purpose of alimony (or spousal support) which are financial payments from one spouse to the other; alimony can be Order as short-term or long-term; the length of alimony payments is generally a function of how long the marriage lasted.

Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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