Family Law

How much is this going to cost me?

It is very difficult to say how much a divorce is going to cost. So much of it depends on how much the parties fight over the issues. The more disagreeing, the more the divorce will cost both parties. It is true that if the other party has a contentious or difficult attorney, your case will cost you more.

Most attorneys charge by the hour, and the hourly rates can differ depending on the county that the case is in. The hourly rates generally range from $200- $350 an hour. The better prepared you are when you speak and meet with your attorney and the more willing your are to help your own case, the less you will spend in attorney fees.

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What steps are involved in the divorce/custody process?

There are multiple ways to handle a divorce case, and so the process varies. Usually it is in most client's best interest to settle their case and agree on how to resolve their differences. This can be done various ways:
- Mediation
- Collaborative Law
- Separation Agreement

However, this isn't always possible, and then the parties will often have to litigate their case, meaning the courts will help to step in and resolve their differences by having hearings and trials on the various issues in the case.

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Is there a waiting period for a divorce in Maryland?

In order to obtain an absolute divorce (which is the legal term for a final divorce) in Maryland, the parties must be separated for at least 1 year. However, there are exceptions to that one year waiting period, such as a spouse committing adultery unless the divorce is based on adultery or cruelty to the other spouse.

However, never wait the year before getting some legal advise about what can be accomplished during that one year. This time is used to deal with property, custody, and child support issues. Therefore, most people do not wait a year before filing for a divorce. It often will take months to schedule hearings and trials and therefore, it is best to act quickly. Prior to the one year waiting period, most clients file a what's called a "limited divorce."

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How long with the divorce take?

The length of a divorce case is different from case to case, depending on the issues and the amount of contention between the parties. The law in Maryland is that a husband and wife must be separated one year before they can be eligible for the final divorce. In situations where the parties have agreed on everything and/or there aren't property and custody issues, the case could only take a few months to resolve, after the period of separation. However, if there are multiple issues and the parties are having difficulty agreeing on these issues, then the case gone take a year or more.

It is best to ask your attorney about the length of time, after informing him or her about the particulars of your case.

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Is a "no-fault" divorce possible?

Maryland is a "no fault" state, which simply means that grounds are not necessary in order to obtain a divorce in this sate, and no blame needs to be assessed on a spouse. A party can simply set the grounds to be a mutual and voluntary separation after 1 year.
After 1 year of mutual and voluntary separation, with no hope or expectation of reconciliation, either party can obtain an absolute divorce. "Mutual and voluntary" means that both parties agreed to separate, that they did so without any coercion or threat, and that they intended to end their marriage. After 1 year of separation for any reason, either spouse can obtain an absolute divorce.
The parties are free to allege other various fault grounds as a cause of the break up of the marriage. Even if a divorce is a "no fault " divorce it does not necessarily mean that it will be an uncontested divorce.

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What are the most common "fault" grounds for divorce?

The most common "fault" grounds are:

  • adultery
  • desertion
  • constructive desertion
  • cruelty, and
  • excessively vicious conduct.

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What evidence is needed to prove adultery?

It is rarely possible to obtain evidence of adultery by the testimony of eyewitnesses. But there is no need to "catch them in the act." Circumstantial evidence is sufficient.

There must be evidence that

  • the alleged adulterer and paramour were inclined to commit adultery when there was an opportunity to do so, and
  • they were together at a time and place and under circumstances which provided them with an opportunity to engage in sexual intercourse.

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Does adultery include an extra-marital same-sex relationship?

No. Maryland appellate court has tackled this question in a reported decision. So far, "adultery" as used in Maryland's divorce law has meant voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the married person's spouse. Intercourse, which means penetration of the vagina by the penis, does not occur between same-sex partners.

Thus, same-sex intimate conduct may not be classified as adultery. However, such conduct may amount to constructive desertion, discussed below.

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What acts constitute abandonment or desertion?

Abandonment and desertion as grounds for divorce contain two elements:

  • ending cohabitation and
  • intent to end the marriage.
What does "ending cohabitation" mean?

Ending cohabitation means ceasing to live in the same residence and ceasing to have sexual relations with one another.

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When is someone legally justified in leaving?

Someone is legally justified in leaving when a spouse's conduct presents such a threat to a person's safety, physical health, or self-respect that continuation of the marital relationship has been made impossible. This is what Maryland law calls "constructive desertion" by the offending spouse.

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What kind of conduct constitutes cruelty or excessively vicious conduct?

Cruelty encompasses mental as well as physical abuse. Verbal and physical abuse may have been tolerated in another era, but today evidence of controlling behavior, isolation from friends or family, taunting, violence and threats of violence, or other misconduct which is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other spouse, will justify an absolute divorce on grounds of cruelty or excessively vicious conduct.

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Is one act of violence grounds for divorce?

A single act of violence, in order to constitute cruelty, must indicate the intent of the offending spouse to do serious bodily harm or be of such nature as to threaten or place the victim in serious danger in the future.

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Is infecting a spouse with a sexually transmitted disease grounds for divorce?

If a spouse, knowing he or she is afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease, continues to maintain sexual relations and communicates the disease to the other spouse, such action constitutes extreme cruelty justifying divorce. However, to establish cruelty as the result of communication of a sexually transmitted disease, the diseased spouse must have known of the condition and the other spouse must have not known about it.

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My spouse has been working for a large company and has a pretty good 401(k), and pension plan. It's only in my spouse's name. Am I entitled to some of it in divorce?

In Maryland, you are entitled to a portion of anything that was acquired during the marriage, that isn't a gift from a third person, an inheritance or something that you and your spouse formally agreed belonged to one of you. Even though a 401(k) may be titled to one spouse, if it was acquired during marriage, then you are probably entitled to one half.

It gets complicated when the spouse started acquiring the property before the marriage. Then, the 401(k) has to be valued and the "marital share" (i.e., the amount acquired during marriage) determined. Our firm uses the services of qualified professionals to determine the value and prepare special orders that give clients their share of the 401(k) once the divorce is final.

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We have joint custody of the children. Why do I have to pay child support?

It is important that both parents contribute to the raising of their children, even in joint custody cases. The amount of child support charged to each parent depends upon the amount of time each parent spends with the child, as well as each parents income and the expense of raising the child.

Since 1990 Maryland Law requires the use of mandatory guidelines to determine child support. These child support guidelines provide a formula for calculating child support based on a proportion of each parent's income.

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How is child support calculated?

The Child Support Guidelines take the following into account:

  • each parents gross income;
  • the cost of medical insurance and child care;
  • any other support of non-custodial parents actually paying;
  • alimony received or paid;
  • extraordinary medical expenses; and
  • other expenses such as private school costs and transportation.

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What if parent refuses to pay child support?

If you have a court order for child support, an attorney could help you file a petition for contempt for failure to pay. A hearing will be held to determine if parent should be held in contempt. The Judge could initiate numerous sanctions if parent finds in contempt.

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Criminal Law

What should I NOT do if I am arrested?

Although being arrested can be an upsetting experience, it is imperative that you remain calm and treat law enforcement personnel politely, even if you are falsely accused. Being polite does not mean giving them a confession. Rather, many officers of the law will be recording you with their body microphones, and the more courteous you appear, the more a jury is likely to believe your side of the story. Cursing and threatening officers during your arrest could result in additional charges filed against you.

In addition to being calm and courteous, you should always provide your proper ID. Giving false information can work against you in court and possibly result in additional charges filed against you.

Once you get into the jail, try to arrange for bond and for an attorney. Many jails will post lists of approved bondsmen. Make a phone call to the Law Office of Maria Caruso as soon as you can. The earlier you contact us the sooner we can start preserving evidence and formulating your defense.

Remember, DO NOT:

  • Go to meetings without your attorney present. You should never meet alone with law enforcement. Your attorney should be present for any and all lineups or administration of tests (i.e., taking a blood sample).
  • Answer questions asked by law enforcement officers or other officers of the court, unless advised to do so by your attorney.
  • Consent to a search of your vehicle.
  • Talk to other people about your case.
  • Attempt to bribe the officer, even indirectly.

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What is the difference between a DUI and a DWI?

A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is a more serious charge than a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). You may be confronted with this charge if your blood alcohol level (BAC) is .08% or higher. A DWI is slightly less serious than a DUI. You may have to face a DWI charge if you are under the legal .08% BAC level but still considered impaired.

Defendants are typically cited for both DUI and DWI when they are arrested. The State usually proceeds on the more serious DUI charge if there is a breath test result of .08 or higher. If there is no breath test result, or if the results of the test are between .07%-.08%, the State generally proceeds on a DWI.

The penalties for being charged with DUI are different from the penalties for being charged with DWI. You could face up to a year in jail for a DUI. The maximum charge for a DWI is 2 months. While the penalties for both DUI and DWI charges include fines and license suspension, the penalties will be greater for the DUI charge.

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Will I lose my driver's license after a DUI/DWI arrest?

Following a DUI arrest, you will usually be given a temporary license valid for the next 45 days. You must schedule a hearing with the MVA within 10 days if you want to attempt to maintain your driving privileges. If you do not schedule a hearing within 10 days your license will be suspended on the 46th day after your arrest. Because of this limited amount of time, it is very important to contact the Law Offices of Maria K. Caruso as soon as possible. The sooner we are contacted the sooner we can help with your MVA hearing as well as your criminal charges.

Additionally, both DUI and DWI offenses add points to your license. These points have a range of effects, from being required to attend a Driver Improvement Program (DIP) to having your license revoked. You can only accumulate points if you are convicted of the offense. For more information on the point system and the consequences of accumulating points on your license, call the Law Offices of Maria K. Caruso today.

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Will I have to serve jail time for a DUI/DWI arrest in Maryland?

Here is the potential for jail time for both DUI and DWI charges. The more convictions for drunk driving offenses you have, the greater the chances that you will have to serve time in jail. If this is your first offense, it is more likely that you can complete your sentence without spending additional time in jail.

Although it is unlikely, it is possible to spend up to 1 year in jail for a DUI charge and up to 2 months for a DWI charge. If you have more specific questions about serving jail time for DUI/DWI offenses, contact the Law Office of Maria K. Caruso today.

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Am I required to have a defense attorney for a Maryland DUI/DWI?

While you are not legally required to have a defense attorney for a Maryland DUI, obtaining legal aid during this emotional and intimidating time can provide the legal knowledge and experience to effectively defend you in a court of law. It is rare for defendants facing these charges to move forward without the legal aid of an attorney.

The great attention and diligence of experienced criminal defense attorneys like Maria K. Caruso are an invaluable asset when you are facing the consequences of a DUI or DWI charge. Call today and get the reassurance that your case will be well managed and cared for.

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What is assault?

Assault is the attempted touching of someone without their consent, and includes putting them in fear of being intentionally touched. Battery is the offensive and unlawful touching of someone without their consent. In Maryland, "assault," "battery," and "assault and battery" are all grouped under assault.

An assault is generally the result of a fight or disagreement that has risen to some level of violence. In many cases, if the fight was mutual, the person who reports to the police first is the person who is not charged with assault. It you are charged with assault, contact the Law Offices of Maria K. Caruso as soon as possible.

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What are the penalties for assault?
  • Assault - 1st Degree = Max. 25 years in Prison.
  • Assault - 2nd Degree = Max. 10 years in Prison; Fine: $2,500.
  • Assault on Law Enforcement = Max. 5 years.
  • Assault - Poisoning by water/food contamination = Max. 20 years.
  • Assault - Attempted Poisoning = Max. 10 yrs.; Min. 2 years.
  • Assault - Reckless Endangerment = Max. 5 year.

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Real Estate

What is a living will?

A living will is a written statement that explains and details the type of medical care you do (and do not) want if you become incapacitated in an end-stage medical condition. Unlike a last will and testament, a living will is not used to leave property at death. Instead, it's a place where you can make your preferences known to your family and physician when you are no longer able to make these preferences known yourself.

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When does a living will take effect?

Your living will takes effect when your physician determines that you do not have the ability to make your own health care decisions. This usually means that: 1) you cannot understand the nature and consequences of the choices that are available to you, and 2) you are unable to communicate your own wishes for health care, either orally, in writing, or through gestures.

If there is any question about your ability to understand your options and communicate clearly, your physician will determine whether or not it is time for your documents to come into effect. Otherwise, your documents will spring into effect immediately. Of course, you will always be able to make decisions about your own medical care as long as you have the ability to do so.

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What is a last will and testament?

A last will and testament is a document stating precisely what is to be done with your belongings after you die. Any adult of sound mind is entitled to make a will. You must sign and date your will, and at least two witnesses must watch you sign the will, then sign the will themselves, for your last will and testament to be legal.

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What happens if I die without a will?

If you do not make a will, state law will determine what happens to your belongings. In general, your belongings will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your closest relatives. The state will inherit your belongings if no relatives can be found.

Additionally, a court will determine what happens to your children and their belongings if the other parent is unavailable or unable to do so.

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What is probate?

Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone passes away. This process involves proving that the deceased's will is valid, identifying, inventorying, and appraising their estate, paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining property according to the directions of the will.

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What is a living trust?

A living trust is a trust set up by a person during their lifetime, rather than being created after their death. A trust arranges for a trustee to hold legal title to the property of that person, known as the beneficiary. It is possible to be the trustee of your own living trust. This means that you would keep full control over all property held in trust.

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If I make a living trust, should I still make a will?

A will can provide a crucial back-up plan should there be property that you do not transfer to your trustee. For example, property acquired shortly before you pass away that is not transferred to your trust. You can include a clause in your will that names a specific person who would inherit all property that hasn't been left to a beneficiary. Without such a clause, and without a will, all property that is not transferred by your living trust will go to your closest relatives as determined by state law.

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