Separation and Divorce

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Attorneys

Roxy Araghi

Eric P. Bacaj

Anne W. Coventry

Nancy G. Fax

Marcia C. Fidis

Oren Goldberg

Morriah H. Horani

N. Alfred (Al) Pasternak

Stephanie Perry

Linda J. Ravdin

Christina K. Scopin

Micah G. Snitzer

Adam P. Swaim

Vicki Viramontes-LaFree

Anne (Jan) W. White

Probate Paralegals

Sharon L. Coop

Anbar A. Hassan

Karen L. Williams

Paralegals

Cassandra E. Brown

Marla V. Wolff

Administrative Staff

Suzanne M. Dimoff

Mary A. Nelson

Nicole A. Ryder

Our family law attorneys are well versed in the division of pensions, retirement plans, and other forms of deferred compensation, including the plans of private sector employers requiring a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), government plans, military retirement, and the plans of international treaty organizations. We are also experienced in the valuation and division of businesses and professional services practices. Our senior family law attorneys are experienced in the division of executive compensation, such as stock options, restricted stock, executive deferred compensation plans, and other forms of nonqualified retirement benefits. We are knowledgeable about the tax consequences of divorce and separation and can use our tax expertise to craft effective settlements.

We are experienced in resolving disputes about spousal support through negotiated settlements and, when necessary, in trial. In 2010, we won a unanimous result in a landmark alimony case before the highest court of Maryland.

Our family law attorneys are able to draw on the expertise of our estate planning lawyers, several of whom have specialized degrees in taxation, to provide advice on the tax consequences of property settlement agreements and spousal support, as well as on the division of retirement benefits and nonqualified deferred compensation.  They can also assist with structuring marital settlement agreements that include post-death obligations, such as an obligation to maintain life insurance or to create a life insurance trust for a former spouse or a child.

Publications

Recognition

  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland and DC, 2008-2019); Top 50 Women Attorneys (Maryland, 2015-19); Top 50 Women Attorneys (DC, 2016-18); Top 100 Lawyers (Maryland, 2016-2017, 2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Family Law (Maryland, 2012-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 100 Lawyers (Maryland, 2012-2014, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law (Maryland, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Collaborative Law: Family Law (Maryland, 2012-2020)
  • Washingtonian – Washington’s Top Divorce Lawyers (2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Maryland, 2016)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Washington, DC, 2016)
  • Super Lawyers – Rising Stars – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland and DC, 2013-2016)
  • Washingtonian – Metro Area’s Best Divorce Lawyers (2017, 2018, 2019)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law and Family Law & Mediation (Maryland 2015)
  • Bethesda Magazine – Top 25 Divorce Lawyers in the Bethesda Area (2017)
  • Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals, Member of the Year, 2010
  • Awarded best Co-Chair of the Family Law Section of the Bar Association of Montgomery County (2008)
  • Maryland Bar Foundation (Fellow)
  • American Bar Foundation (Fellow)
  • American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (Fellow)
  • Washingtonian – Washington’s Top Divorce Lawyers (2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers (Washington, DC, 2017)
  • Best Lawyers – Lawyer of the Year in Collaborative Law: Family Law (Washington, DC, 2016, 2018, 2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law (Maryland, 2010-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law Mediation (Maryland, 2013-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law Mediation (Maryland, 2016-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law (Maryland, 2009-2020)
  • Best Lawyers – Family Law (Maryland, 2006-2020)
  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland, 2018-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Family Law (Maryland, 2015-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland and DC, 2007-2019); Top 25 Women Attorneys in Maryland (2010-12); Top 50 Women Attorneys in Maryland (2014-19); Top 50 Women Attorneys in DC (2008-12, 2015, 2018)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Family Law (Washington, DC, 2008-2012)
  • Super Lawyers – Top 50 Women Lawyers; Family Law (Washington, DC, 2016-2017)
  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland, 2008-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Maryland, 2008-2019)
  • Super Lawyers – Divorce & Family Law (Washington, DC, 2018)

Blog Posts

January 6, 2020

The SECURE Act: Elimination of the “Stretch” Option for Certain Beneficiaries of Inherited Retirement Assets

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (the “SECURE Act”) took effect January 1, 2020, revising federal rules that govern the administration of qualified retirement plans (e.g., 401(k) and 403(b) plans) and IRAs.  Among the changes effected by the new law is the shrinking of the class of beneficiaries who can “stretch” out their required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) from such accounts over their expected lifetime.  This stretch of RMDs was a tax benefit, because it allowed the beneficiary to defer income tax, keeping assets in the tax-favored vehicle as long as possible, where they could grow without diminishment; it is only upon distribution that the assets would be subject to income tax.

The SECURE Act imposes a maximum 10-year payout rule for retirement accounts… MORE >

December 18, 2019

How to Disinherit Your Spouse in Maryland: A Preview of Maryland’s New Elective Share Law

We don’t often get the question, “Can I disinherit my spouse?” but the subject has been fraught with consternation for Maryland estate planners for many (many, many) years; we used to have to answer it with “it depends.” We will soon have greater certainty—for decedents dying on or after October 1, 2020, it’s going to be harder to disinherit a surviving spouse entirely in Maryland. It will be easier, however, to design an estate plan that pre-funds the spouse’s share, balancing competing interests without disrupting the family business or forcing the sale of illiquid assets.

A Little History

To understand the impending (and extremely complicated) new rules, it helps to explain how the old rules worked and why they stopped working. Under old law (still… MORE >

December 17, 2019

What Divorcing Parents Should Know About International Travel with Children

Many parents like to vacation with their children, to the beach, to a national park, to visit a big city. Some families travel abroad. Parents who are separated, or planning to separate, should include rules about traveling with minor children in their settlement negotiations. Parents can avoid disputes by agreeing to travel protocols in their parenting plan.

What is required to apply for a U.S. passport for a child under age 16?

A child under the age of 16 must apply for a passport in person. The child must be accompanied by both parents, as required by the federal Two- Parent Consent Law, and provide proof of the child’s citizenship (U.S. birth certificate; a valid, undamaged U.S. passport (may be expired); a foreign birth certificate).

MORE >

December 16, 2019

How to Succeed in Business Succession Without Your Family Crying*

* With thanks to playwrights Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, and composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, without whom the world would lack the wonderful play, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1961)

This is a story of three different people with a similar issue, but very different concerns. Each of them is a successful business owner, and each is struggling with how to leave the legacy of their life’s work without destroying the business or their family. Consider:

  • The older widower who has stabilized the business transition but wants to ensure liquidity for his family when he is gone;
  • The single middle-aged business owner who needs a path to transfer the family business to key employees while acknowledging her jealous siblings’ needs;… MORE >
July 18, 2019

Trusts and Divorce

Trusts are an important tool that families can use to protect assets and pass wealth to future generations. When the beneficiary of a trust is facing divorce, he or she will be concerned that the trust assets and income may be vulnerable to a spousal claim. Such a claim can include equitable division of property, spousal or child support, and an award of legal fees and costs.

Whether and to what extent a beneficiary’s interest in a trust can be subject to a spousal claim at divorce depends on:

  • Whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable;
  • Whether the divorcing spouse is the settlor (i.e., the creator) of the trust, or whether a third party established the trust;
  • Whether the spouse-settlor funded the trust with marital or nonmarital property, or some of each;
  • Whether the… MORE >
July 17, 2019

Section 529 College Savings Accounts and Divorce

Many couples establish savings for the college education of their children. A Section 529 account is an attractive vehicle for these savings, as discussed in Adam Swaim’s article. What happens to a 529 account if the parents divorce? The appeals courts of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia do not yet appear to have wrestled with a parental dispute about a 529 account in a divorce. Only a few cases from courts around the country have done so. They offer some guidance to parties and their lawyers as to how our courts may handle a dispute over a 529 account that arises between divorcing parents. More importantly, they point out issues that parties should address when negotiating a marital settlement agreement where they have a Section 529 account for a child.

Some key legal aspects of Section 529 accounts:

July 16, 2019

Saving to Pay for Education Expenses: The Basics of 529 Accounts

One of the largest expenses a family will incur is very likely the cost of a child’s education. In order to encourage early participation in saving for education expenses, Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code permits states to provide tax-advantaged savings plans (“529 plans”). A 529 plan account may be used to help pay for a beneficiary’s tuition at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school (capped at $10,000 per year). It can also be used to pay higher education expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, supplies (including computers and related equipment), and room and board (on-campus and off-campus housing, with certain limitations), at an eligible higher education institution. An eligible higher education institution is generally any college, university, vocational school, or other postsecondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program… MORE >

February 12, 2019

Books for Family Lawyers (Preview)

Parenting Plans: Meeting the Challenges with Facts and Analysis

After a separation or divorce, parents need to have a plan to raise their children. It can be particularly challenging to navigate a fundamentally cooperative undertaking after the parents’ relationship has ended. In Parenting Plans: Meeting the Challenges with Facts and Analysis (American Bar Association 2018), author Daniel Hynan, Ph.D., analyzes some of the issues a parenting plan should address. Dr. Hynan blends individual assessment with scientific studies in making his recommendations. Because nearly a quarter of all children of divorce suffer “significant adjustment problems,” it’s critical to make sure that each parenting plan fits the family. A well-constructed parenting plan can account for scheduling, decision-making, and other contingencies that might arise. Dr. Hynan provides guidance for lawyers, mediators, and other professionals who work with parents seeking to develop parenting plans… MORE >

February 8, 2019

Morriah Horani Talks about Estate and Trust Litigation

Morriah Horani, a partner in the firm, is an experienced trial lawyer who handles disputes about child custody, division of property at divorce, and child and spousal support. Several years ago, she decided to expand her litigation practice to include resolving disputes arising out of estates and trusts. It seemed like a natural expansion of her family law practice as these cases often involve family members at war with each other. For this article Morriah answered some questions about her estate and trust litigation practice.

What is fiduciary litigation or estate and trust litigation?

This is an umbrella term that encompasses disputes about trusts or the estate of a deceased person. Litigation may involve issues stemming from a will, a beneficiary designation, a power of attorney, or a trust. A will dispute, for example, may be about whether a document purporting to be a will… MORE >

February 4, 2019

Marital Agreements and Beneficiary Designations—Sometimes Friends and Sometimes Foes

A marital agreement can take the form of a premarital agreement, a postmarital agreement, or a separation agreement, i.e., an agreement that settles property rights (and other issues) between parties who intend to divorce. A marital agreement may provide for the disposition of assets at death; it may require one or both parties to provide for the other or a child at death after divorce; or it may waive rights at death. When the terms of a marital agreement and a beneficiary designation conflict with each other, the law will either validate or annul the designation, depending on the jurisdiction, the type of asset, and the language of the marital agreement.

The District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland all have laws that revoke at divorce either the entire will or the portions benefitting a… MORE >