Divorcing couples often object to setting foot in Maryland family law offices, claiming that their divorce is uncontested. The most common reason for this claim is that each party wants to save money by eliminating the need for a lawyer. The reality of an uncontested divorce situation is that the divorce is contested unless and until the couple has reached a stipulation of agreement as to custody, visitation, and division of marital property. Very few actually have such an agreement in place at this stage.
Couples who claim that their divorce is uncontested almost always are really saying, “We want our divorce to be cheap. We agree on all the major stuff. We promise.” They are dismayed to find that a court will not grant the divorce until a stipulation of agreement is drafted. It is at this stage that the parties typically visit a Maryland family lawyer and discover that their positions are much more divergent than they realized.
The parties will claim that they have agreed to split everything “right down the middle.” In reality, the parties almost always have an incomplete picture of what they can split. For example, one party may not realize that he or she may have an interest in their spouse’s individual retirement account. They may not realize that certain items of property purchased entirely with one spouse’s funds may nevertheless be treated as marital property if the property was purchased during the course of the marriage. When these considerations surface, the parties almost invariably change their tune as to what is agreed upon.
The same can be said for custody and visitation issues. The parties very often can come to their own understanding of who will be entrusted with primary custody of the children, and some may even have an elementary understanding of a joint custody or visitation schedule. What many divorcing parties fail to realize is the specificity required in these agreements. The parties must agree on all of the specific logistical details of their custody and visitation understanding. The agreement must detail things like who picks up the kids from school, who is responsible for transportation of the kids to and from each other’s homes, where the kids go in case of emergency, and sometimes even vacation schedules. In short, the parties typically can come to an understanding as to the general principles of their custody and visitation schedule, but rarely delve into the minutia of it.
The lesson to take away from these observations is that uncontested divorces are exceptionally rare. Though many couples may not realize it, the services of a Maryland divorce lawyer are a valuable resource, even if the couple appears to be in agreement. The divorce process is almost always an emotional, trying time for all parties involved. Rash and uninformed decisions sometimes leave divorcing parties with less than what they could have had. An experienced attorney will make sure all of your interests are taken care of, including the ones you did not realize were at issue.
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