Pasternak & Fidis Reporter

October 18, 2017

Changes to Maryland Law Increase Ease, Efficiency, and Consistency in Family Law

The Maryland General Assembly recently took several actions impacting domestic relations that will increase ease, efficiency, and consistency for those navigating the family court system.

Domestic Violence Orders Admissible in Maryland Divorce Suits

Protective orders (a form of domestic violence order) are designed to end and prevent abuse between family or household members.  Current or former spouses, people who have lived together in an intimate relationship for at least 90 days during the past year, people who have been in a sexual relationship within the past year, people who share children together, people who are in a caretaker-vulnerable adult relationship, and family members can file for a protective order 24 hours a day in Maryland.  In a protective order, a judge can order the abuser to: stop the abuse, stay away from and cease contact with the victim, leave a shared home, grant temporary custody of children shared with the abuser, and award temporary possession of the victim’s pets.

As of October 1, parties seeking a divorce in Maryland will be able to use a court-issued domestic violence order as evidence in their cases.  Previously, domestic violence orders were not admissible in divorce cases because “there was concern that protective orders would be used as grounds for divorce,” said Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the bill.  The prohibition on using a domestic violence order as evidence in divorce cases has now been repealed, lifting an artificial veil from the court’s ability to conduct a full review of the case before it.  Repeal will streamline the divorce process as a domestic violence order can be particularly useful in proving the date the parties separated.  In addition, allowing a domestic violence order into evidence will protect domestic violence victims from having to re-litigate an abuse claim because the domestic violence order itself will help prove the conduct.

 Time for Name Change Upon Divorce Extended

The General Assembly has also made it easier to obtain a name change after divorce.  Previously, a party seeking to change his or her name back to a former name upon divorce had to request that the court order the name change in the final judgment of absolute divorce.  Now, parties will have 18 months after divorce to decide, and to file the name change request in the divorce file without going through a separate, formal name change process.

 “Health Insurance” Defined for Child Support Obligation

Finally, the legislature defined “health insurance” for the purposes of calculating a child support obligation.  Previously, the term went undefined, leaving various jurisdictions around the state to determine for themselves what constituted health insurance.  The General Assembly has now defined health insurance to include medical, dental, and vision insurance and prescription drug coverage.  This update will provide statewide consistency in determining child support under the child support guidelines.