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Divorce & Family Law

Ellicott City Divorce Lawyers

Solutions in Maryland Family Law Since 1975

Resolution of your family law issue requires an attorney with legal knowledge, strong negotiation and trial skills, and the willingness to guide you compassionately through a turbulent time.

Protecting Your Interests in Divorce and Family Matters

Based in Ellicott City, the divorce lawyers of the Willis Law Firm, P.A. are powerful advocates for your interests in every facet of family law, from initial separation to later modifications of custody or child support. We invite you to an initial consultation, where a seasoned Maryland attorney will personally discuss your circumstances and your options. Our convenient office location allows us to serve clients in Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, and Carroll County. We will answer all of your questions and calls promptly.

In cases of divorce, separation and custody, we believe that it is always in the best interest of the parties and of the children to reach a reasonable settlement. If, however, if the parties are unable to agree, we are ready to aggressively litigate your case to protect your rights, your children, and your assets.

Legal Separation

Separating from your spouse is difficult, and the decision that will affect you for the rest of your life. For those reasons, you need to have an attorney who will act as a buffer between you and your spouse, and look after your interests by preparing a solid separation agreement.

In Maryland, separation agreements are enforceable as a contract. It is crucial that the agreement be thorough and concise, spelling out:

  • How marital property is divided
  • Who gets to live in the house
  • Child custody and parenting arrangements
  • Child support and spousal maintenance

As separation agreements are later incorporated into the divorce decree and govern how things are done for many years to come, this document should be drafted or reviewed by an attorney.


Willis Law Firm, P.A., offers 30 years of experience litigating divorce cases, and we work to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached that is satisfactory to the parties, then we are ready to fight for your rights in court.

It is not easy to get a divorce in Maryland — a husband and wife cannot go down to the courthouse and simply sign a paper. At the very least, Maryland requires the parties to be separated and not having sexual relations. The separation must be uninterrupted and continuous prior to filing for divorce.

The parties must normally maintain the existing house and pay existing bills, while at the same time paying for a second residence. Issues of child custody, visitation and support add to the difficulty.

Our lawyers make sure you understand your rights and obligations, and encourage clients to reach a fair agreement.

  • A word about reaching a settlement: You should view going to court to have a judge decide your case as a last resort. Just as soldiers are the last people who want a war, a lawyer with experience litigating cases knows that a settlement you can live with is vastly preferable to allowing a stranger to decide your case after listening to it for an hour.

First, the result will likely not be as good as any agreement you could reach. Secondly, the cost of litigating a case is rarely worth the benefit of a trial. This does not mean you should give away the farm. It means that to the greatest extent possible you should view your divorce as a business deal, not as a way of getting back at the other person. And if you view coming to an agreement as taking control of your life rather than placing it in the hands of a third person (the judge), it makes a lot of sense.

What Happens Once the Divorce is Filed?

Although particular rules and law apply, a divorce case is treated by the court system as simply another lawsuit. That means a case is started by filing a complaint for divorce. The party served with the complaint and must make an answer. Then each side gets information from the other in a process known as "discovery." During the discovery phase each party gets information about the assets and income of the other party, as well as any other relevant information.

In the course of the case there is normally at least one settlement conference where the parties are given a chance to agree on a settlement.

After discovery is completed, a divorce trial is held if there is no agreement (or no agreement on all issues) at the settlement conference. The trial is held just like any other trial, except that there are no juries in divorce cases in Maryland. Witnesses testify, evidence is presented, argument made, and the judge makes a decision.

If there is an agreement in place as to all issues, the procedure is slightly different. Typically, the case will be set before a master instead of a judge, who listens to the evidence and makes findings of fact and conclusions of law. Generally, if the case is before a master, the only relevant evidence is with respect to the grounds for divorce, normally due to a separation. If there is a written agreement, it is placed in the record.

Child Custody

Custody of children is an issue in most separations and divorces, and more often than not, it is the primary source of conflict. It is always better to agree to an arrangement and to cooperate when children are involved. It is, however, sometimes necessary to litigate the issue of custody and support. In Maryland, it is possible to seek custody and support even if there is no divorce action pending, so long as the parties are not living together. You have a right to child support if you are the custodial parent, and a lawyer can help you be sure you are getting the support your child deserves.

In Maryland there is no presumption in favor of one parent over the other in deciding custody. That is, there is no presumption in favor of the mother, and no presumption that the father is a better parent for a boy or the mother better for a girl. There is also no presumption in favor of the parent with the most money, highest income, or better house. The sole standard is the best interest of the child.

That all being true, as a practical matter, the mother will usually get custody in a contested case, absent a showing that she is an unfit parent, of absent some serious wrongdoing on her part.

There is also no presumption that a parent is unfit simply because he or she might be at fault in causing the divorce, such as in the case of adultery. The court may consider it as a factor, but it does not automatically mean that person will not get custody.

Child Support and Spousal Support

Child support in Maryland is determined though a straightforward process. The gross incomes of the parents are added together, a number is taken off of a chart (state child support guidelines) based on the income and the number of children, and that is the basic child support obligation. To that is added any work-related day care. That number is then divided in proportion to the incomes. The parent with custody is presumed to be paying his or her share, and the parent without custody pays his or her portion to the other parent.

There are provisions of the law that allow the court to deviate from the guidelines, but the judge must state on the record why it is in the best interest of the children to receive less than the guidelines amount.

Support is either paid directly to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent, or is paid through an earnings withholding order by the employer of the non-custodial parent. Support can also be paid through the Department of Social Services.

Spousal support (also called "alimony" or "spousal maintenance") is sometimes awarded in Maryland divorces. This is a monthly payment of one spouse to the other for living expenses after separation.

The decision to grant spousal support lies with the judge, and is awarded on a case-by-case basis. The court considers many factors, such as the parties' age, education and earning capacity, income and financial strength, circumstances leading to separation, and lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.

Alimony might be awarded on a temporary basis, such as rehabilitative support while the receiving spouse goes back to school or trains for an occupation. It can also be awarded for a period of years, or even permanently (until the recipient spouse dies or remarries).

Modifications of Custody or Support

Certain terms of the divorce settlement (as well as court orders involving parents who were never married) can be revisited. Post-decree modifications must be approved by a judge in a modification hearing.

The amount of child support or spousal support can by increased or reduced if one party petitions the court. However, the court will not alter support for frivolous reasons. The petitioner must show a "substantial change in circumstances," such as losing a job or the other parent getting a big promotion, resulting in a significant change in income.

Custody and visitation can also be modified. Parents may come to agreement and ask the judge for approval, or the matter can be litigated in a modification hearing and the judge will approve or deny the petition after hearing the facts. The court considers the best interests of the child as the overriding factor.

Relocation of the custodial parent to another state (also known as removal) is often hotly contested. The parent wishing to move away with the children must show why it is in the child's interests, and that the non-custodial parent will not be unduly deprived of the right to see his or her children. If you are involved in removal proceedings, you need quality legal counsel to assert your case before the court.

Maryland Family Law Attorneys: 410-461-9400

Contact our Ellicott City divorce lawyers to discuss any family law issue. We will take the time to listen to your situation in an initial consultation, and provide you with sound advice and a plan of action. We stand by our clients from the initiation of divorce proceedings until final resolution.