Demystifying the Divorce Process in Maryland: Part 1
For many, divorce or custody cases are the first experience working with an attorney or dealing with the Court. At the Law Office of Laurie M. Wasserman, we walk our clients through the legal process one step at a time, so they know what to expect.
In this blog series, we will discuss the typical court process in a divorce or custody case in Maryland, in the hopes of demystifying it. Part 1 will cover how a divorce or custody case gets started and begins the legal process. If you have any questions, please reach out. Our team is here to help guide and advocate for you.
Step 1: The Filing of the Complaint
Before you file, you should hire a family law attorney. Your family law attorney can advise you of the options you have for your case and help you prepare the first case filing, called the Complaint.
The filing of the “Complaint” is how a case is started. The party who files first (the “Plaintiff”), uses the Complaint to inform the Court of the issues in dispute and explain the relief they are seeking. For instance, if you are filing a Complaint for Divorce, you may ask the Court to grant you a divorce, to have exclusive use of a family home, or to be awarded custody or child support.
The Complaint is also where you let the Court know the basis for filing your case. The Court wants to make sure you have grounds for bringing your suit and that you have filed in the correct jurisdiction. The Complaint does not have to include every single piece of evidence and the entire history of your relationship. If you are also seeking financial relief, like child support or alimony, you will need to include a financial statement with the Complaint.
Step 2: Service of the Complaint
Once the Complaint is filed, the Court will issue a “Summons.” The other party (the "Defendant"), must be given notice of the Court filing. This is done by serving the Summons and Complaint on them.
The law requires that service be done in a specific way and under a specific deadline. Your family law attorney will ensure the Summons and Complaint are properly served on your spouse. If service is not proper, it can delay your case or cause it to be dismissed.
If your spouse evades service, your attorney can file paperwork to have them served in a different method. Regardless of the circumstances, there are always ways to proceed with your case.
Step 3: The Answer and Counterclaim
After the Complaint and Summons are served, the other side has a certain amount of time to file a formal “Answer” to the Complaint. The amount of time to respond depends on whether your spouse lives in Maryland (30 days) or outside the State of Maryland (60 days).
Your spouse can also choose to file a “Counterclaim,” which is like the Complaint filed by the Plaintiff, but it outlines the relief the Defendant is requesting from the Court.
If your spouse does not file an Answer, then they can be found in “Default,” and there is additional paperwork your attorney will need to file so that the case can proceed in their absence. The process to get the Court to enter an Order of Default in a case can be tricky, and it is best to consult your attorney when trying to obtain the entry of an Order of Default.
Step 4: Scheduling Conference
Once the Answer is filed (or the Default is entered), the Court will set your case in for a “Scheduling Conference.” A Scheduling Conference is not a trial, and this is not the time where a judge will hear testimony and evidence. It is a meeting with the Court to assess the issues, see if there are any opportunities for resolution, and set the case in for future services and hearing dates.
It is necessary to be prepared for the Scheduling Conference because, depending on the jurisdiction and your case, it is the proper time to ask for services such as drug testing, a custody evaluation, or screening for a psychological evaluation. Your attorney will ensure you are prepared, and your concerns are addressed.
At the Scheduling Conference, you will get an order listing important deadlines and dates in your case. This order becomes the roadmap for your case.
In the next part of this blog series, Demystifying the Divorce Process in Maryland, we will explain what happens after the scheduling conference is complete.
Do you have questions about the divorce or custody process in Maryland? Contact Laurie Wasserman at email@example.com or 410-842-1070. The legal team at the Law Office of Laurie M. Wasserman is here to help guide and advocate for you.
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