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

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 >

August 30, 2018

Changing Irrevocable Trusts

When is a door not a door? (Answer: When it is ajar.)

When is an irrevocable trust not irrevocable? Answer: Pretty much all the time. That is, perhaps the irrevocable trust cannot be revoked per se but, with a little creative thinking and cooperation, it may be possible to modify, decant, or terminate an irrevocable trust. This is not the kind of news that makes headlines (except in our newsletter), but great changes are afoot in trust planning.

In the past 18 years, more than 30 jurisdictions (including DC, MD, and VA) have enacted a version of the Uniform Trust Code, shifting trust law away from arcane rules buried in old court decisions and into the modern era. Many jurisdictions (again including DC, MD, and VA) have also revised laws that used to prohibit extremely long-term trusts,… MORE >

July 26, 2018

OPINION: Electronic Wills? Maybe, But Not Like This

B22-0169, the Electronic Signature Authorization Act of 2017, is pending before the DC Council, and it is dreadful.  The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), relevant sections of the DC Bar, and a number of DC Fellows of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) have submitted, formally or informally, written opposition to the bill.  We have it on good authority that this bill is unlikely to pass, and we hope that is the case.

Are electronic wills coming?  Of course they are.  Last year in Australia, an unsent text message was accepted for probate as someone’s last will and testament.  (Unsent!  With an emoji in it!)  In July of this year, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision to accept for… MORE >

July 19, 2018

Alimony Ends When Payor Spouse Retires . . . Or Does It?

Family lawyers are increasingly hearing from divorced clients who are getting ready to retire or have retired and who have a spousal support obligation or a right to receive support under a court order.  A court order may result from a trial or as part of a settlement agreement adopted by a court in the judgment of divorce.  Some payors think alimony payments automatically end at retirement, or that a court will decide to terminate payments at retirement as a matter of course, but this is not necessarily so.

Court-ordered spousal support terminates automatically only on the death of either party or—in Maryland and Virginia, but not the District—upon remarriage of the recipient.  When a court orders indefinite spousal support, i.e., support without a predetermined… MORE >

July 9, 2018

Seasoned Trial Lawyer Eric P. Bacaj Joins Pasternak & Fidis

In June 2018, Eric P. Bacaj joined the firm as an associate after eight years as a criminal prosecutor: almost four years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and four years as an Assistant United States Attorney in Charleston, West Virginia. As a former prosecutor he brings a wealth of courtroom experience to his new position with the firm’s Divorce and Family Law Group.

With nearly all of his extended family in the DC area, joining Pasternak & Fidis was a homecoming for Eric. At Denison University, in Granville, Ohio, he got an undergraduate degree in Political Science. In his second year, he took a course on the Supreme Court from Susan Gellman, a civil rights lawyer, who taught it as a typical law school course, with a law school casebook and the Socratic method, requiring students to make legal arguments and challenging… MORE >