Fuckin' Maryland Divorces, How Do THEY Work?
September 27, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a very dear friend, YANAL/YANHL/TINLA/OMG/WTF: my friend wants to divorce her emotionally-abusive husband. He doesn't want a divorce and intends to fight her tooth and nail. They live in MD. What to do?

My friend already has a lawyer - however, the lawyer is monstrously expensive and money is tight (for reasons to be clarified shortly). Looking for GENERAL legal advice on obtaining a divorce in Maryland. From what we can tell, Maryland will ONLY grant a divorce if one of the following conditions is met: adultery, desertion (constructive or actual), voluntary separation, criminal conviction, two­-year separation, or insanity.

Herein lies the rub: my friend and her husband own a home and have two small children. They both work and make comparable salaries. She wants a divorce because he is emotionally abusive and controlling. HOWEVER, neither of them can leave the marital home (he refuses, she won't for fear of him claiming desertion). Neither of them is adulterous, criminal or insane. They are currently residing on separate floors of their home. Her husband has withdrawn all financial support (apart from paying for 3/4 of the mortgage). She pays for 90% of all child-related expenses (food, clothing, babysitting, activities, etc). As such, she's unable to save money to either, 1. Afford her lawyer, OR, 2. Accumulate a down payment for a separate residence. Thus, she's in a vicious Catch-22: can't afford to move out/pay lawyer's retainer until court grants child support/alimony... but can't get court to grant child support/alimony UNTIL she's moved out of the residence.

And thus, my question: how in the holy hell do people with combatative, bitter spouses but WITHOUT a lot of cash obtain a divorce in Maryland? The ONLY way that comes to mind at present is for her to take out a loan, move out with the kids and claim "constructive desertion" (basically, that he made it impossible for them to live together), but we're not sure how the courts generally view those claims (in other words, what evidence will she need to produce?).

Thanks so much for your help, HiveMind.
posted by julthumbscrew to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't help on the lawyer front, but is there a reason she needs to buy a new house immediately? Getting together a little money for a security deposit and first/last month's rent on an apartment or house, even one big enough to provide space for the kids, is a heck of a lot cheaper than a down payment, house hunt, etc. Not that it's free but "Need a down payment" should not be the limiting factor in "getting out of this house."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:04 AM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Note: not to thread-sit or get snippy, but my friend DEFINITELY isn't going to act on ANYTHING without running it past her actual-factual, MD-bar-association-certified attorney. We're just trying to get general/anecdotal/brainstorming advice because she's singlehandedly supporting two small kids and her lawyer is insanely expensive. I myself have been divorced - I am painfully aware of how easy it is to get dicked over, and I will not let this happen to her. Thanks.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:04 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


she should be able to get a free consultation with a lawyer to get an idea of how the fees/retainer work.

i'm sure she's not the first person in this situation.

perhaps she could call a local abused women's shelter to get some advice on lawyers who deal with divorces where this sort of emotional abuse is a factor?
posted by sio42 at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


on preview, can her current lawyer recommend a divorce attorney? i'm sure s/he knows one.
posted by sio42 at 8:07 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Maryland Family Law Hotline sounds like the place to start. "The Hotline operates at 1-800-845-8550 Monday through Friday 9:30 am - 4:30 pm." I know nothing more about it than they have on the webpage, so I can't guarantee that they will be able to help, but if they can't they can surely point her in the right direction. She might also want to order Legal Rights in Marriage and Divorce from the same organization so she won't waste money having her lawyer explain the basics to her.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, you are incorrect about you're grounds for divorce. You're looking at the grounds for an absolute divorce which is itself a complete dissolution of marital status and legal rights. There are also, "Limited" divorce which doesn't complete absolute the legal ramifications of the marriage. To get from limited to absolute, a full dissolution must take place by either a) your criteria listed above or B) an annulment of the marriage.

You really, really, really need a lawyer as even a No fault divorce can take a massive amount of money. If you're friend as a lawyer, ask them for advice or a divorce lawyer - this is one time that you do not want to skimp on the legal advice. Just as a backstory to illustrate this point, my girlfriend tried a no fault divorce with her ex, he changed his mind, and what went from a $200 filing fee changed into 20K worth of debt that could have been solved by a $1000 lawyer fee. Get a lawyer.
posted by lpcxa0 at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


She should start with this book from Nolo Press.

But ... does the lawyer not bill in six minute increments? Because six minutes is about all it would take for a lawyer to answer the question of how one divorces an unwilling spouse. That's a divorce 101 question; she is not the first in this spot.

Also, I would recommend that she call around and find a free consult or a lawyer who can work with her financial situation. Because whatever we come up with here, it's going to cost just as much for a lawyer to review the advice, possibly more, as it does for a lawyer to provide it.
posted by zippy at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


IAAL. If I were advising a client about his case and he told me, "but the internet says", we would be having a discussion about whether he was going to remain my client.

If her current lawyer is expensive (is that lawyer a family law lawyer? The OP didn't say), then she should get a less expensive lawyer. Many lawyers will give a 30-60 consultation for no charge or for a reasonable flat fee e.g. $200. Her lawyer can give her a referral.

If she is going to get a divorce, she is going to need a lawyer anyway. If she can't afford a consultation, she can't afford a divorce.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:15 AM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


It appears that one way to get divorced in Maryland is to be separated for two years.

There is no formal separation in Maryland, so your friend can simply take the children and move. Perhaps a nice apartment close by.

You can engage with a Family Support Services Coordinator to explore your options during the divorce and to advise on issues like child support, etc.

While separated, you can apply for child support from the non-custodial parent:

How do I provide for myself and the children during the separation??

Once separated, you can apply to the court for several types of relief. First, you may request child support if you have custody of the minor children. The question is always "how much?" Both of you are going to have to contribute. One of you probably will think they are getting too little and the other probably will think they are paying too much. Fortunately, most states have implemented child support guidelines. This mandated method of calculation takes some of the guess work out of who pays how much.


The separation must take place for 24 months, and you can't co-habitate during the separation, so one party needs to move out of the house.

This is not the time for belt tightening in the lawyer department. Her divorce attorney is expensive for a reason, your friend needs to go and find out how best to deal with this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect that her costs of 90% of expenses plus 1/4 of the mortgage is draining her financially while her husband saves by only paying 3/4 plus 10%. Do they have no assets? I am going to assume she has no access to them until a lawyer demands it (at which point she can pay some of her outstanding lawyer's bill). The longer this goes on her position gets weaker and her husband will build up financial leverage. The women I know in this positon do exactly what you said; they get a loan (from a credit union, from friends/family), their lawyers delay billing, they pull the children out of activities and cut back on their expenses.

First though, I would reccomend booking couple's counselling, not to save the marraige but to try to make inroads towards an amicable divorce. If he doesn't show up, or refuses to work in the counselling sessions, it is another piece of information for the lawyers/judge to work with when detirmning access/support etc. Regardless, she needs to be in counselling herself - it is much cheaper to pay a therapist to work out her feelings instead of a lawyer. Let the lawyer focus on the legal/financial part without her sabatoguing herself; not exactly following the lawyers advice and letting her emotions get in the way. That is the biggest mistake I see my friends going through divorce make.
posted by saucysault at 10:24 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks, all - I think we have some good leads with consulting an abused womens' shelter (while her husband is not physically violent, he is psychologically VERY cruel), calling the MD Family Law line and getting a loan so that her (excellent-but-expensive) divorce lawyer can get the ball rolling.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2012


Does your friend have any credit cards, so she can get the ball rolling with a lawyer?

This could (potentially) provide a temporary solution until some sort of emergency support arrangement through the courts can be crafted.
posted by PsuDab93 at 11:05 AM on September 27, 2012


"separated" might not mean physically separated, but living in separate bedrooms would count. In Illinois, emotionally separate also works. If they have been not having relations, and not acting like man and wife, that counts as separated, even if they share the same residence. I didn't look up Maryland specifically though, but I imagine it's the same there.
posted by katypickle at 12:32 PM on September 27, 2012


Maybe she should get a lawyer who has a more reasonable hourly rate. She might also be able to get a free initial consultation in which some basic, overview kinds of questions are answered.

Your question about what kinds of evidence she will need to produce and what steps she should take is one that she really needs to ask her attorney (and that attorney should ideally be a family law practitioner).
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 PM on September 27, 2012


I'll add to the above, that your friend may be in a much better financial situation after getting a lawyer involved, because family court is going to look at the parent not covering kids expenses (if they are within that parent's means) and say "hey, slacker parent, step up."

A lawyer should be able to tell your friend, given her income and her spouse's, plus their expenses, what the normal range of support from each parent is.
posted by zippy at 11:08 AM on September 28, 2012


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