Alternative Service of Process

n general:  every party has the right to notification of a divorce being filed against him/her requiring “Service”.  This is called “Service of Process in a Divorce”.  Each state has its own service of process requirements in a divorce.  Typically when a spouse cannot be located, the filing party must be a legal resident in the city/county and state for the minimum required time to file in that state. When you can’t locate your spouse to serve him/her with the divorce complaint, you can serve the other party by what is call, “alternative service of process.” This is an alternative procedure that is used when your spouse cannot be located.

  • Often you may serve a spouse you cannot locate by publication or posting where the spouse last resided.
  • Keep in mind any time frames that must be met for the alternative service to be accomplished (such as how long a Summons may be good for, how long or how often a Notice would need to be posted or published)
  • Reasonable efforts must be made to locate the spouse (due diligence) and proof of this must usually be provided to the Court (typically by Affidavit detailing the steps taken to locate the spouse).
  • In general,  if the spouse is unable to be located, there may be some issues that the Court isn’t able to fully decide without the other party’s acknowledgment of the matter and/or participation (such as support, property, etc.)

Additional State Specific Resources

Divorce Mediation

The Uncontested Divorce and How Online Divorce Mediation Can Get You There

Divorce mediation, particularly, online divorce mediation, can be a quick and inexpensive way to resolve your divorce conflicts.

Here is how it works:

The lowest cost way to get a divorce, is to represent yourself in an uncontested divorce. By representing yourself in an uncontested divorce you can save thousands of dollars in legal fees. You cost is the cost of the divorce forms (under $100.00 from this web site), and the court filing fee in your state. When both spouses, execute a binding Marital Separation Agreement, settling all issues between them, the divorce becomes an uncontested divorce. If there are only a few outstanding issues that need to be settled between you and your spouse, and you can’t settle these issues between yourselves, your next best option is to work with a mediator to settle your conflicts and enter into a Marital Separation Agreement. This is much less costly than if each spouse is represented by counsel, which can easily generate thousands of dollars in legal fees.

What is Family or Divorce Mediation?

“Divorce mediation” means the mediation of disputes in actions for divorce, annulment, establishment of paternity, child custody or visitation, or child or spousal support. Mediation programs can be very beneficial to people who are divorcing as well as to those who have long been divorced but who find themselves in a dispute in their post-divorce relationship. Not only can it save money but it promotes positive dispute resolution rather than adversarial procedures. That being so, it is well worth investigating by any couple facing divorce, a child custody fight, a visitation dispute or other interpersonal conflict. Mediation is a process that may help you resolve your case so you can have an uncontested divorce. Mediation is particularly useful in situations involving children, since it is in the interests of the children that their parents “get along” even if they will no longer live together as husband and wife. In many states all cases that involve contested custody or visitation matters are referred to mandatory mediation, provided the parties are represented by an attorney and there is no allegation of domestic abuse. Mediation attempts to change disputes from “win-lose” to “win-win.” Mediation is a non-adversarial process of helping people come to agreement on issues like parenting arrangements, support of children and spouses and division of real and personal property. Mediation occurs when a neutral third-party, who has training in dispute resolution, assists you and your spouse and helps you resolve the issues that are causing conflict and to make cooperative, informed decisions.

Traditional Face-to-Face Divorce Mediation

One option is to meet with a mediator face-to-face. You can find a list of divorce mediators who you can contract with for a face-to-face mediation here.

Online Divorce Mediation: Benefits

Recently a number of Web Sites have emerged that offer online mediation. Online mediation takes place in a secure web space with the parties communicating through telephone, video, and text. Online Mediation has the following advantages:

  • Convenient and flexible
  • Secure and confidential
  • Quicker
  • Less costly
  • The parties don;t have to meet  face-to-face in the same room.
  • If the parties are separated by distance, online mediation can be an efficient solution.

Online divorce mediation will increase popularity in the next decade as online technology becomes more powerful. Here is a another good article on the benefits of Online Divorce Mediation from mediate.com.

Here is a list of online divorce mediation web sites:

Selecting a Divorce Attorney

Divorce Attorney: What You Need to Know

Many people handle represent themselves without retaining a divorce attorney. In California, 75% of all uncontested divorces are managed by unrepresented pro se litigants. Family mediation is also a process that is often handled by the parties without representation by divorce attorneys.  Others decide they should retain divorce attorneys to review the draft of the Marital Settlement Agreement. If you have a pension or a large amount of property or income it is certainly advisable to consult an attorney before you sign a final agreement. An attorney can also be very helpful in advising you during the mediation itself.

You can save substantial legal fees in routine matters by finding a divorce attorney who will provide you with discrete services when you need it, and then handling the rest of the paperwork yourself using resources in this Web Site.

When Can You Represent Yourself

It is not advisable to represent yourself if you have a contested custody matter; if you have substantial property; or there is a dispute over pension rights. Self-representation works best for those with routine and uncontested legal matters and for those who can follow the instructions necessary to get from the filing of the complaint to the final hearing.

Only Hire a Divorce Attorney With Expertise in Family Law

A lawyer who normally handles personal injury law or corporate matters will not be of much use in a divorce since he or she may have little understanding of family law. Most states do not allow attorneys to state that they specialize in family law. However, firms are permitted to state that they limit their practice to family law, which means that they do not practice in other areas of the law.

Another indication that a law firm has expertise in family law is if the firm
is known to take on pro bono cases in family law. A pro bono case is a case that the firm takes on for no fee or a reduced fee because the client is financially eligible for such assistance under criteria established by a local or State Bar Association. You can also ask what percentage of the lawyer’s practice is devoted to domestic law cases

Always have a written agreement

Do not hire a lawyer based on an oral agreement. That only leads to misunderstandings. Instead, be sure the fee agreement (called a retainer agreement) is in writing and that you understand all of its terms.

Divorce Attorneys Usually Charge “By the Hour”

That means you are going to have to keep a sharp eye on the bill. Thus, do not accept a bill that reads, “fees for services rendered.” Rather, insist on a detailed monthly billing statement. If you find a mistake or there is a charge you don’t understand, bring it to the attention of your lawyer. Some lawyers are experimenting with a new form of practice called “unbundled” legal services.
These lawyers will charge you just for the advice that you need, usually on an hourly basis, to support you in your mediation and after as a pro se litigant. In this case, you will still file your own legal papers, but the lawyer will be available to provide you with legal advice if you need it.

Don’t Be Passive

Just because you have a lawyer, that doesn’t mean you do not have a job to do. You should ask questions and read the material in this web site so as to better understand the law and the process. You – not your lawyer – should make the ultimate decisions about how to proceed with your case. After all, it is your life and your future that is at stake, not your lawyer’s.

Questions you will want to ask your lawyer.

  • How long will my divorce take?
  • What is going to happen step-by-step?
  • What is your best estimate of the fees that you will charge?
  • What will be my other “out of pocket” expenses?
  • Will “experts” such as an accountant be necessary? what will that cost?
  • Will I be asked to pay the legal fees of my spouse?
  • What are the problems in getting what I want out of the divorce?
  • What is my child support obligation, if any?

 In summary, if you retain a lawyer you could spend as much in legal fees as purchasing new car. Spend as much time ins electing a lawyer as you would if you were purchasing a new car. Buyer beware!!

Same Sex Divorce in Maryland

Same Sex Divorce

Same sex divorce is coming to Maryland. Maryland was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2012 by popular vote. Effective January 1, 2013, same sex marriage became legal in Maryland.

You can also get a same sex-sex divorce in Maryland based on any of the grounds for divorce, but the most practical ground for divorce is what is known as a “no-fault” divorce based upon a one year separation. One year separation means that the spouses must live separate and apart for one year. Getting a divorce based on adultery is problematic because the Maryland statutes require sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. The Maryland statutes have not caught up with same-sex marriage.

Same-Sex Divorce Law Needs to Catch Up

Another disconnect is the awarding of alimony. Alimony in Maryland is based on 12 factors.  Because one of the major factors is the length of the marriage and because same-sex marriage has been legal for only two years, the determination of alimony doesn’t reflect the true long term nature of many same-sex relationships. A long-term same sex relationship that results in a short-term marriage will not provide the same protections and rights to the parties upon divorce. as if the couple had been married during the entire time of their relationship.

There is a similar disconnect in determining the amount of a monetary award. Three of the factors in determining a monetary award are related to the length of the marriage. These factors only consider the property acquired during the  legal marriage.There is an equitable argument that the court needs to consider the entire length of the relationship in determining a monetary award.

In the fullness of time, the Maryland legislature is sure to correct these inequities, but in the short term it is important to be aware of the limits of current law.

Other states are likely to have the same legislative constraints in determining equitable results for a same sex marriage in the areas of the ground of divorce; property division, and alimony determination.

The best way to resolve these issues is through a Marital Separation Agreement between the parties which reflects their consensual agreement in these areas.

Our Marital Separation Agreement Service has been revised to deal with the needs of a same-sex divorce.  It can be purchased here.

Maryland Mutual Consent Divorce

Maryland has a new ground for an uncontested divorce call a “Mutual Consent Divorce”. This new type of divorce eliminates the one-year waiting period. You can expedite your divorce in Maryland, if you meet the new qualifications for a “Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland”, —  effective October 1, 2015.

Qualifications for a “Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland”

If you don’t have any children you can qualify for this divorce which does not require a one year waiting period. This new divorce is called a “Divorce by Mutual Consent”.

It is only available to couples who don’t have any minor children. You must satisfy these conditions to qualify for a Divorce by “Mutual Consent”:

Four Conditions for Divorce by “Mutual Consent”

A couple will be able to qualify for divorce by “mutual consent” if four conditions are met:

1. They have no minor children in common;
2. They have a signed, written settlement agreement covering both alimony and property rights that they submit to the Court;
3. Neither party asks the Court to set aside their written settlement agreement; and
4. They both appear at the uncontested divorce hearing.

Separation before Filing no Longer Required

This type of divorce does not require the couple to be separated for any period of time before filing for the divorce. The only other existing, no-fault ground for absolute divorce in Maryland requires parties to be separated for an entire year before they can file.

Under current Maryland law, living together under the same roof while negotiating property and support issues, delays when a divorce can be granted on no-fault grounds. Only after a couple has separated and has lived separate and apart for twelve months can one of them file for a divorce on no-fault grounds under existing law.

The new law means that if you qualify and execute a Marital Separation Agreement, you can file for divorce as soon as each party as executed the Marital Separation Agreement.

You can also stay living in the same residence while you are your spouse negotiate the terms of your Marital Separation Agreement. This reduces the cost of securing your divorce as you will not have to move to a separate residence during this transition period while you are negotiating your Agreement.

Our divorce forms for a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland are automated, so easy to complete and come with detailed filing instructions. This is the lowest cost way to secure your divorce.

The Hearing for a No-Fault Divorce in Maryland

If you file for A “Mutual Consent” Divorce, both parties will have to attend and participate in the hearing.

Why You Need a Marital Separation Agreement

Execute a Marital Separation Agreement as Soon as You Separate

As soon as you and your spouse execute a Marital Separation Agreement (sometimes called a Marital Settlement Agreement or a Property Settlement Agreement), your divorce will become uncontested.  You can then represent yourself in the divorce hearing, if a divorce hearing is required. If you can agree with your spouse on the major issues, and execute a Marital Separation Agreement you will save you thousands of dollars in legal fees. You don’t need counsel in order to create and enter into a Marital Separation Agreement.  When parties to a divorce are represented by counsel the cost of legal fees for both parties increases very rapidly.

If You Need Legal Advice

If you think you need legal advice, you can now consult with a lawyer for as little as $39.00 for a legal advice phone call where you can discuss your situation. This service is available from online companies like Avvo or JustAnswer.

When You Should Be Represented by Counsel

There are certain kinds of divorces where both parties should be represented by counsel. For example, a high conflict divorce where the parties can’t agree on custody or the spousal support amount or there is a disagreement about what is marital property and what is not marital property, or a situation where one party is abusing the other and domestic violence is present. These situations require that the parties be represented by counsel.

You and your spouse should be able to come to an agreement on the critical issues. Then you can incorporate your agreements into a written document. Once you have an executed Marital Separation Agreement, your divorce is more of an administrative process than a court proceeding in the sense you simply have to submit the correct documents the court and your divorce will be approved.

What is a Legal Separation?

A Marital Separation Agreement is not the same as a “Legal Separation.”

Legal separation is not a divorce, and it is obtained through a court action, (a judicial proceeding).  Unlike a divorce, obtaining a legal separation requires no waiting period. The parties can fix their rights and obligations to each other immediately via the courts rather than waiting several months. A couple may want to avoid divorce and seek a legal separation because of religious reasons, tax and insurance considerations or to continue to receive state or federal benefits. When you get a “legal separation” it results from a court order, and it has all of the characteristics of a divorce, except that you cannot remarry.

Execute a Marital Separation Agreement when you separate, but don’t file it with the court. You bring it to the final divorce hearing and it becomes part of the record.  You want an MSA during the period when you a separated in order to limit your liability and define the rights of each of you in your joint property and to limit your liabilities to each other during the period of separation.

A typical Marital Separation Agreement will cover these topics:

The agreement can cover:

  • a spouse’s right to alimony and support;
  • who resides in the home;
  • the ownership and use of vehicles and other property;
  • the ownership of personal property;
  • a division of household goods and furnishings;
  • a division of cash, bank accounts, IRA’s, etc.;
  • insurance coverage;
  • the custody and visitation of the children;
  • the support of the children (including clothing, activities, school fees, etc.);
  • payment of medical expenses;
  • credit card payments;
  • mortgage, utility and household bills payments; and
  • whether joint or separate tax returns will be filed.

A Marital Separation Agreement must be in writing, executed by both parties, with signatures being witnessed and notarized.