Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Happens If You Win the Powerball Lottery Tonight and are Going Through a Divorce?


IF YOU WIN THE POWERBALL LOTTERY TONIGHT AND ARE GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE, WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR WINNINGS?

Tonight, there is a good chance that someone (or perhaps several people or groups of people) will win the record $1.5 billion Powerball lottery jackpot and join the ranks of Zuckerberg, Gates and Buffett as an American billionaire.  As of the writing of this post, the estimated cash payout for a single winner exceeds $900 million.  How nice would that be?  (Note, if I have the winning ticket, this will be my last blog post.  But, if you have been receiving your free legal advice from these posts, do not despair, with the odds of winning around 1 in 295 million, it is, unfortunately, highly likely that you will be hearing from me again.)

 But if you do win tonight and are going through a divorce, what happens to your winnings?  Does your soon to be ex-spouse get to share in the hundreds of millions of dollars that you will receive?  In Maryland, it all depends.

 In a 1993 decision by Maryland’s Court of Appeals (the State’s highest court) in Alston v. Alston, the Court reversed a decision by the trial court in which the trial court had awarded the wife of a man who won a DC “Lotto” jackpot of over $1 million dollars fifty percent of the husband’s annual annuity payout.  The Court held that although the lottery winnings constituted “marital property” under Maryland law since they were obtained while the parties were still married and the winnings were thus subject to “equitable distribution” by the Court, the trial court did not give enough consideration as to when the lottery was won.  Under the facts before it, the Court found that the husband had won the lottery at a time when the marriage “was, for all practical purposes over,” and, thus, it did not believe that an equal distribution of the winnings was appropriate.  It further held that there was no evidence before it that would justify any portion of the lottery winnings being given to the wife, so it reversed the trial court’s decision and held that the wife was not entitled to any of the lottery winnings.  One million dollars for Mr. Alston, zero for his wife.

 However, in a subsequent decision by Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals (Maryland’s intermediate appellate court) in Ware v. Ware, the Court upheld a trial court’s decision to award the wife a sizeable marital award and indefinite alimony after the husband won a $17 million Powerball lottery jackpot.  The Court of Special Appeals’ decision distinguished the Court of Appeals’ decision in Alston.   In reaching its decision, the Court of Special Appeals found that the relationship of the parties was much different than it was in the Alston case and it was not, “for all practical purposes”, over.  Mr. and Mrs. Ware – although separated – were still having sexual relations and continued to do so even after the husband won the lottery.  Under these facts, the Court agreed that an award of some portion of the lottery winnings to Mrs. Ware was equitable and it upheld the trial court’s decision to award Mrs. Ware $1.6 million dollars and $3,500 per month in indefinite alimony.

 So, in short, if you are a Maryland resident and win the Powerball lottery tonight and are going through a divorce, there is a a possibility that you will have to share your winnings, or a portion thereof, with your estranged spouse.  Like so much in the law, it will all depend on the facts of your case.

 But, if you are in that situation, rest assured, one thing is for sure:  because of the amount of money at stake, there will be a fight over the winnings.  (In another Maryland case, a husband moved from Virginia to Maryland, apparently hoping to have a better chance in sharing in his estranged wife's lottery winnings.)  And, if you find yourself in that situation, and need legal counsel, please feel free to call me.

 
Bruce L. Stern, Esq.

301-444-4660


ww.freestatedivorce.com

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Who can a Child call "Mom"? A Court decides.

In a decision released earlier this month, a New Jersey Court was called upon to decide whether an eight year old child can call his soon to be step-mother “Mom.”  The child’s biological mother took issue with the child calling her ex-husband’s fiancĂ© “Mom” and the Court was called upon to decide the issue.

The Court ruled that the child can call the fiancĂ© “Mom” and it would not intervene or bar the child from calling the future step-parent by the name he desired.  The Court felt that the decision was one the child should make – although it could be one he was making to please his father - and it refused to micro-manage the child on the issue. 

If you have any questions regarding custody of your children, call Stern & Associates today at (301) 444-4660 or visit us on the web at www.freestatedivorce.com.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A New Year's Resolution for Many: Get Divorced

Post-Holiday Divorce Inquiries Spike as Individuals Vow to be Happier Next Year

The holidays are almost upon us.  On December 26th, as many people will hit the malls to return unwanted Christmas presents and shop post-holiday sales, others will go online to begin their search for a divorce attorney. 

The post-Christmas and New Year’s surge to find a divorce attorney is almost upon us.  As I have told people for years, the time between December 26 and the end of January is when I receive the largest number of inquiries from potential divorce clients seeking a divorce in Maryland.
 
Why the post-holiday rush for divorce attorneys?  Although in a troubled marriage, many people decide to hold out through the holidays and do not want to cause a disruption for themselves or their families during what should be a festive and joyous time from Thanksgiving through Christmas.  Others make a simple New Year’s resolution:  “I am going to be happier next year.”  And oftentimes being happier involves divorcing or separating from a spouse.

If you are one of those individuals who is seeking divorce information during the post holiday season, you can call my office to schedule an initial consultation where I will be happy to address any questions you may have about divorce in the State of Maryland.  It is a new year, resolve to be happier.

For a free, initial divorce consultation, in person or over the phone, call my offices today at (301) 444-4660.  You can also visit my web sites at www.sternlegal.net and www.freestatedivorce.com.

Friday, October 2, 2015

No Fault Divorces in Maryland: Divorce by Mutual Consent

Effective October 1, 2015, Maryland has adopted a no fault ground for divorce in the state.  Maryland residents can now get divorced on the basis of "mutual consent."  The legislature has limited application of this ground for divorce and to qualify for a divorce on the ground of mutual consent, divorcing couples must meet the following requirements:


  • They can have no minor children together;
  • The parties must have already entered into a written separation agreement that resolved all property issues between the parties, including the issue of alimony.
The great benefit to this ground is that parties without minor children no longer have to be living separate and apart in different residences for 12 months in order to get divorced.  It should also significantly reduce the cost of divorce for parties who can resolve their property issues outside of Court.


The Clerk of the Court for Montgomery County has already stated that the Court expects to set hearing dates on complaints filed on the basis of "mutual consent" within 45 days of the date of the filing of the complaint, answer and request for an uncontested divorce hearing. 


For more information on divorce in the State of Maryland, please call my office at (301) 444-4660.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

WARNING: SIGN AN AFFIDAVIT OF PARENTAGE AT YOUR OWN RISK


In a recent decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that an individual was obligated to pay child support for two children even though the children were not his. 

In Davis v. Wicomico County, Jessica Cook gave birth to twin boys.  Shortly after the birth of the twins, Ms. Cook and her boyfriend, Justin Davis, signed an “affidavit of parentage” at the hospital.  (Such affidavits are signed when the mother is not married.)  By this affidavit, Ms. Cook and Mr. Davis affirmed that they were the children’s parents.

Ms. Cook may have been the mother of the children but Mr. Davis later found out that he was not the father.  Although she knew Mr. Davis was not the father, Ms. Cook sought child support from him.   Mr. Davis, of course, opposed Ms. Cook’s efforts for child support and asserted that he was not responsible to pay child support since the children were not his.  (This sounds like a reasonable argument to me.) 

Mr. Davis requested a paternity test but his request was denied by the Court.  Relying upon the Affidavit of Parentage that he signed at the hospital, the Circuit Court held that because Mr. Davis had affirmed that he was the father of the children at the time they were born and he did not rescind his affidavit within 60 days of signing it (as provided for by statute), the issue of parentage could not be re-litigated by him. 

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.  As a result of the decision, Mr. Davis is now obligated to pay child support for two children who are not his.  All because he signed an affidavit of parentage at the hospital.

The take away from this decision:  do not sign an affidavit of parentage at the hospital unless you know you are the children’s father.  The assertion contained in the affidavit that you are the parent of the child will be binding upon you unless you rescind the affidavit within sixty days of its execution, unless you can prove, fraud, duress or material mistake of fact.   (How’s this for fraud:  “She lied to me and I believed her.”  Or material mistake of fact:  “She told me I was the father and I believed her.”)

Although the Court’s holding may be technically correct based upon the applicable statute and the procedural history of the case, it is grossly inequitable.  It requires an individual who is not the father of two children to be responsible for their support for roughly 18 years.  The legislature should look at this issue next session and amend the applicable statute to prevent a recurrence of the inequity that occurred in this case.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources encourages new mothers to have the putative fathers sign the affidavit of parentage at the hospital.  From the DHR website, “Right after your baby is born, you can encourage the father to start the paternity process by signing the Affidavit of Parentage while you are still in the hospital. . . . The hospital staff can help you complete the form free of charge. They can even act as your witness. . . .The hospital staff will send the Affidavit to the Division of Vital Records.”  DHR’s website also proclaims that “Paternity Establishment is Important!”  That may be true but I think it is more important for the state to determine paternity correctly and when paternity is determined in error, to provide a mechanism to correct it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

IKEA AND DIVORCE: MARITAL STRESS IN THE STORE’S AISLES AND AT HOME


A Wall Street Journal article this week questioned, “Can Your Relationship Handle IKEA?”  IKEA, a popular, Swedish furniture retailer, has stores across the United States and three in the Metropolitan D.C. area.  For those who have not shopped at IKEA, furniture purchased at the store typically comes in flat boxes and requires assembly.  IKEA typically packs its boxes with a small Allen wrench which someone in Sweden apparently believes is the one tool you need to build its furniture, no matter what you are building, or how large it is.   The company also includes instructions with its furniture that, supposedly, anyone worldwide can understand.  (I, personally, have never been able to comprehend IKEA’s instructions, even with 19 years of education.  It’s all Swedish to me.)  Although people love the look and design of the furniture, It turns out that shopping at IKEA and building its furniture does not, however, lead to marital bliss. 

The Journal reported a study where 46 percent of couples responded that they found the experience of remodeling their home “frustrating” and an incredible 12 percent of those surveyed admitted that they considered separation or divorce during the renovation and remodeling process.  While those surveyed don’t only shop at IKEA, a major stressor among couples is building furniture, a common requirement for IKEA shoppers.  The Journal also noted that seventeen percent of people surveyed reported that they always got into arguments when assembling furniture.  Thus, nearly one in five couples who buys furniture at IKEA that requires assembly is likely to get into an argument while they are building their new wall unit or bookcase with the little Allen wrench provided by IKEA.  And, apparently a good number of those people are going to think about separating or divorce during that argument.  Perhaps a key word in my Google advertising should be “IKEA”.  If you don’t need my services before you go furniture shopping, there’s a twenty percent chance either you or your spouse is going to want to talk to me after that experience.

What does this mean for you?  Understand that renovation and remodeling projects and building furniture are a source of stress and conflict for couples and communicate with your spouse to avoid conflict during these projects.  You may even want to consider having one spouse build the furniture while the other is out.  Or, better yet, as I have come to do, hire someone to build the furniture that you buy.  It will spare you a lot of frustration and marital strain.  Or, if you are a frustrated IKEA shopper now looking for a divorce attorney:  301-444-4660.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pit Bulls and Children

I recently responded to a post on the legal web site Avvo and thought the issue was worth addressing on my blog.  The poster was concerned that his ex-wife, with whom he shares joint custody of a minor child with, was moving in with her boyfriend who owns a pit bull.  The poster was concerned about the pit bull and the safety of his minor child.  He wanted to know whether this constituted grounds for modification of custody.  My response to his query follows:


You raise a very interesting question.  In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the State’s highest court) issued an opinion in which it held that pit bulls are inherently dangerous animals.  The Court imposed the legal concept of strict liability on owners of pit bulls and landlords who allow tenants to keep them on their property.  The Court’s decision in Tracey v. Solesky is available at this link:  http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11.pdf.

Applying this decision to your facts, I believe that a trial court could be forced to hold that by having your son live in a residence with a pit bull he is being exposed to an inherently dangerous situation.  I think that would be a very important fact for the Court to consider on a Motion to Modify Custody.  In ruling on a motion to modify custody, the Court has to determine what is in your son’s best interest, but, clearly, residing in a house with an inherently dangerous animal is an important factor for the Court to consider.  If I was a Judge – and I’m not – I would probably tell your ex-wife to get rid of the dog or lose custody.  Why put your son’s safety at risk?

I hope this helps.  Good luck.