Frequently Asked Questions

Click one of the categories below to see just answers to frequently asked questions about that topic. Or scroll down to see all of our FAQs.


All Frequently Asked Questions

What is included in a separation agreement?

Whether through mediation, while involved in litigation, or through the Collaborative process, you and your spouse can negotiate a separation agreement and be as creative as needed to address all the unique issues related to dissolution of your marriage. What can be, and what should be, included in your separation agreement is best determined on a case-by-case basis. It is important to seek the independent advice of an experienced attorney when considering entering into a separation agreement.

What is a monetary award?

In some cases, it is impossible for the court to divide marital property. For example, if your family has one car, the court cannot equitably divide a car and preserve it as a useful asset for both parties. You can't cut a car in half and still drive it. A monetary award may be granted in divorce as a way to equalize the value of assets that can't otherwise be divided.

How is marital property divided?

In Maryland, marital property is subject to equitable distribution.

What is marital property?

Marital property is any property acquired by you or your spouse during your marriage that is not received by inheritance, gift from a third party, excluded by valid agreement, or directly traceable to any of these sources.

What does "equitable distribution" mean?

In Maryland divorce, marital property is subject to equitable distribution. This is not the same as a 50-50 division of property, although in many cases 50-50 is an equitable result. If the court is asked to divide your marital property they will evaluate a number of factors to determine what is "equitable" in your case, in no particular order, these factors include:

1. Length of marriage.
2. Age of each party.
3. Health (physical and mental) of each party.
4. How and when marital property was acquired, including the effort each party made towards acquisition.
5. Reasons for the break-up of the marriage.
6. Monetary and non-monetary contributions to the well-being of the family during the marriage.
7. Value of marital property.
8. Alimony award or award of family use personal property or use and possession of a family home.
9. Anything that the court deems necessary or appropriate to consider to arrive at a "fair" monetary award or transfer of property.

Is the engagement ring marital property?

In most cases, an engagement ring is a gift purchased by a spouse and gifted to the other prior to marriage. If an engagement ring was purchased and gifted prior to marriage, then it may be non-marital property.

It is important to evaluate the source of funds used to purchase property and the date of acquisition to determine whether or not property is marital.

Are gifts that my spouse gave me during our marriage marital property?

If the gift was purchased during your marriage with income that was earned while married, then the gift may be marital property.

Is property titled in my own name non-marital, for example: individual bank accounts and retirement assets?

Property that was acquired during the marriage, even though titled in your own name, may be marital. As with most questions about marital property, this is not something that should be left to guess work. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, we are familiar with marital property issues and we can help you evaluate what property is marital; how your property may be divided in the event of divorce or separation; and when it is necessary to take additional action to protect your interest in property that is non-marital.

What is child custody?

In Maryland, child custody is a blanket term that includes "legal custody," which has to do with decision making for a child, and "physical custody," which has to do with where a child actually lives.

What is the difference between legal custody and physical custody?

Legal custody has to do with the way parents make decisions about a child's education, religious training, discipline, medical care, and any other important matters that might effect a child's general well-being.

Physical custody is more straightforward and has to do with the physical care of a child; where the child will live and sleep.

Is it easier for mothers to get custody than it is for fathers?

The law does not favor mothers over fathers. The court applies the same gender-neutral factors in all child custody cases.

How is custody determined?

The court applies the "best interests of the child" standard when making custody decisions, and must consider the following factors: The "fitness" of the parents to have custody. The character and reputation of the parties. The desire of the natural parents and any agreements between them. The ability to maintain natural family relations. The preference of the child -- when the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form a rational judgment. Material opportunities affecting the future life of the child. The age, health, sex of the child. The suitability of the residences of the parents, and whether the non-custodial parent will have the opportunity to visit. How long the child has been separated for the parent who is seeking custody. The effect of any prior voluntary abandonment or surrender of custody of a child.

How do Maryland courts decide if joint custody is appropriate?

In joint custody cases, Maryland courts apply the following additional factors to determine if joint custody is in a child's best interest:

Willingness of each parent to share custody.
Psychological and physical "fitness" of each parent.
Strength of relationship of child to each parent.
Potential disruption of shared physical custody upon a child's social and school life.
Geographic proximity of the parents' homes.
Demands of parents employment
Age and number of children involved.
Sincerity (motivation) of parent's requests.
Financial status of parents.
Impact on state or federal assistance.
Benefit to parents.
Other factors, as appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Can child custody be modified?

Child custody can always be modified based upon a change in circumstances and the best interests of the child.

What is alimony?

Alimony is financial support that is paid by one spouse or received by another to help maintain the standards of living that were established during the marriage, or to assist a financially dependent spouse in his or her efforts to become self-supporting.

How do I know if I will get alimony?

Eligibility for alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis and the court must consider a number of different factors, including:

Do you have the ability to become self-supporting?
How much time is needed for you to complete the education or additional training necessary to be self-supporting?
What standards of living were established during the marriage?
How long was the marriage?
Have you made monetary and non-monetary contributions to the well-being of the family?
Why did the marriage break-up?
How old are you? How old is your spouse?
How is your health (physical and mental)? How is your spouse's health?
Can your spouse afford to pay alimony?
Are there any agreements between you and your spouse?
What are your financial needs and resources? What are your spouse's financial needs and resources?

Read our recent blog for more information: How Do I Know If I Will Get Alimony in my Maryland Divorce?

How much alimony will I get?

There are no standardized alimony guidelines in Maryland. If you are eligible for alimony, the amount you will get (both how much and for how long) will be determined by evaluating the same eligibility factors outlined above.

What is legal separation?

Many clients are interested in obtaining a "legal separation." In Maryland, you cannot petition the court for a legal separation. You and your spouse can sign a contractual document or separation agreement that states that the two of you have agreed that you can live as though you are unmarried, which would be the equivalent of a contractual separation.

The court will consider you to be married until they have granted you a divorce.

For the purposes of divorce, you are physically separated from your spouse when you stop sleeping under the same roof and stop having sex.

Why do I need a separation agreement?

Depending upon the circumstances of your case, you may need to be physically separated for up to 12 months before you obtain a final divorce. During this time, while living apart, a separation agreement can act as a legally binding document that directs the course of your financial conduct, both during separation and afterwards. Financially, a separation agreement can apportion marital assets and preserve assets that are non-marital. If you and your spouse own real property, a separation agreement can provide for the sale of a marital home and payment of the mortgage and other household expenses while the property is listed for sale. In cases involving children, a separation agreement can define your parental rights, clarify holiday access schedules, and set forth guidelines for important parental decision-making.

What are the grounds for divorce in Maryland?

In Maryland, there are several available grounds for divorce. Each of these grounds has specific factual requirements that must be met, and the grounds that you choose may impact other aspects of your case. It is important to speak with an attorney before filing suit so that you have a clear understanding of how the available grounds for divorce may affect your individual claims. The most common grounds for divorce in Maryland are:

1. Adultery
2. 12-Month Separation
3. Desertion
4. Cruelty of Treatment (towards a spouse or minor child)
5. Excessively Vicious Conduct (toward a spouse or minor child)

How long does it take to get a divorce?

How long it takes to get a divorce depends on a number of things, including:

1. Your grounds for divorce.
2. Where you live, where your spouse lives or works, and where you file suit.
3. The number of disputed issues in your case.

If you have a contested case, with no custody issues, on average it takes a minimum of twelve months from the date you first filed to obtain an absolute divorce.

What is child support?

Child support is a financial obligation, shared by both parents, to contribute towards the financial support a minor child until the child reaches age 18, or until the child reaches age 19, if the child is still enrolled in high school.

How is child support determined in Maryland?

In Maryland, if your combined household income (before taxes) is less than $30,000 per month (as of July 1, 2022), then child support is calculated pursuant to the Maryland Child Support Guidelines. The Maryland Child Support Guidelines take into consideration each parent's actual income, the cost of work-related child care expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, health insurance, school and transportation costs, and the amount of time a child spends in the care of each parent.

Can child support be modified?

Child support can always be modified based upon changed financial circumstances and the best interests of the child.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any pattern of abusive behavior that is used to gain control over an intimate partner or family member. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse suffered at the hands of a spouse, a former spouse, or person with whom you have had a sexual relationship, if that person has lived with you for at least 90 days out of the last year.

What is abuse?

Just like people may not realize they are victims of domestic violence, people often don't recognize abuse. Abuse is any physical act that causes bodily harm, assault in any degree, rape or sexual offenses, false imprisonment, and stalking, but abuse is also any act or threat of action that causes a person to fear that they are in imminent danger of bodily harm. You do not have to be physically abused to be a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence does not discriminate. You do not need to live in fear. When the Courts are closed or you are unable to speak with a lawyer, you can still file for a protective order or a peace order with the District Court Commissioner. A District Court Commissioner is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What is a protective order?

A protective order is a civil order that protects a person from abuse and domestic violence. Your eligibility to ask the court to issue a protective order is determined by your relationship to the alleged abuser. Protective orders typically apply to people in intimate relationships, people who are related, and people that have a child in common. 

What is a peace order?

Like a protective order, a peace order is a civil order that protects a person from abuse and domestic violence. Your eligibility to ask the court to issue a protective order is determined by your relationship to the alleged abuser. Peace orders typically apply to people who have casual, non-family relationship, for example: co-workers, neighbors, dating, and strangers.

What is mediation?

Mediation is another form of dispute resolution, whereby a neutral third-party (the mediator), assists parties in negotiating a settlement.

What are the benefits of mediation?

Mediation can be a cost-effective alternative to litigation. With meditation, the details of your case do not become a public record, and it is easier for you to manage the disclosure of confidential financial information, as well as the underlying causes for the breakdown of your marriage. Mediation allows you to take control over the outcomes in your case. In custody cases, mediation can be especially helpful, because it creates positive momentum between parents as they continue to cooperate with one another for the benefit of their children. 

How long does mediation take?

The number of mediation sessions required to reach an agreement depends on a number of factors. These include your ability to listen and communicate, as well as to follow the direction of your mediator. Each mediation session is typically scheduled for two hours, with the first session dedicated to explaining the process, setting ground rules, and gathering information. In our experience, if everyone commits to the mediation process, most cases will settle in five sessions or fewer.

What is a retainer?

A retainer is an amount specified in your Retainer Agreement that you pay in advance of services performed. Throughout your case, any costs for work conducted will be deducted from your retainer. You may be asked to replenish your retainer during your case or, if your case is resolved before all funds are used from you retainer, any unearned amount will be returned to you.

Why is a paralegal working on my case?

By bringing a paralegal in to assist with your case, we are able to save you money on tasks like conducting legal research, drafting certain pleadings, or examining and organizing documents relevant to your case. A paralegal is not able to give you legal advice, but does work closely with the attorney to handle tasks efficiently.  

Why do I need a consultation?

We begin the process with a one-hour consultation to better understand your personal circumstances. By doing so, we are able to offer you more specific information regarding the facts of your case and answer in-depth questions about the process moving forward. Also, you can think of the consultation as an interview – you want to make sure that the attorney you hire to handle such important personal matters is the right fit for you.

If I already have an attorney, can I hire a new attorney?

In short, yes. Your needs may change throughout your legal case so you may feel it necessary to seek new representation. There are a few methods of changing attorneys, all of which we would be happy to discuss with you.

What type of financial documents should I keep?

Documentation is an important part of any legal case. You should maintain records of tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement statements, pay stubs, bonus or commission statements, mortgage statements, money market account statements, insurance costs, and household bills. This list is not exhaustive; you may be asked to provide many other types of financial documentation.

Do I get to choose which attorney I work with?

We pride ourselves on our team approach to assisting you with your family matter. Our approach is designed not only to ensure that there is always an attorney available and familiar with your case, but also to maximize efficiency.   That being said, if you feel more comfortable with one of our attorneys over another, we will do our best to accommodate your requests.  All firm cases are supervised by Ms. Ingram.

How often do I need to meet with my attorney in-person?

It is important to meet with your attorney and prepare prior to any court appointments, mediations, depositions, etc., but there may be a time lag between those meetings. We welcome the opportunity to meet with  you  (virtually, telephonically, or in person) as often as needed and to ensure that your questions are being answered throughout the process. We prefer face to face communication with our clients, even when virtual, as we believe face to face is the most effective form of communication. 

Do I have to live in Maryland to hire you?

No, you do not need to live in Maryland to hire us. We represent clients that reside throughout the United States and abroad, when they have cases to be heard in Maryland Courts.  If you do not live in Maryland,  we can work with you via telephone and/or video calls. We are largely paperless and will also communicate with you via e-mail and through our cloud-based client portal. We strive for excellent communication with our clients, be they  local or long-distance, and we will do our best to tailor our communication style  to your needs. 




What payment methods can I use?

We accept cash, checks, cashier’s checks, and money orders. We accept all credit cards, except American Express.

What happens during the consultation?

The consultation is your time and we will tailor our work to your needs.  Generally, the attorney will begin by asking you some standard questions to identify relevant issues to be addressed during your consultation.  The attorney will gather information from you and educate you about the law and process options best calculated to lead to your desired outcome.  You will be given an opportunity to ask questions throughout, or at the end, to gain a deeper understanding. If there are any relevant documents or court records for your case, the attorney may review those documents to answer your questions and identify additional issues to be discussed.  We will not follow-up with you after your consultation, and will wait to hear from you if/when you are ready to retain our firm.

What if I share an email address with my spouse?

Our firm is largely paperless. While we often communicate with clients and share documents through email, we can handle business by telephone or regular mail, if necessary. Our clients are provided with a  Clio client portal where they can access e-mails and other documents.  Your client portal does require a secure e-mail address. We recommend that clients obtain a personal, individual email address and make sure that all of your passwords are secure.


Once I hire an attorney, do I have to do anything else?

Hiring an attorney is an important first step.  While we will work diligently on your behalf, you will also have required tasks to support our efforts. You will be asked to review and provide input on our written work, as well as the case strategy we develop for  you.  Your attorney may give you “homework”, depending on where you are in the process. Your active participation in all stages of your case will save your attorney time and as a result, it will also reduce your  legal fees. No one knows the facts of your case and the needs of your children, better than you. 

When do you close my case?

In general, we will close our internal office case file once we confirm that you have personally received any final orders, agreements, or necessary documentation. When we close your client file, we will issue a final invoice and a refund of any unearned retainer.  If, for any reason, you feel it is more appropriate to keep your case open with our firm because of your particular situation (for example: on-going child custody concerns), that is also an option.

What happens when you close my case?

All notes, pleadings, documentation provided by you, and other such items will be kept in our digital files. We will return any original documents to you, if we have not done so already, and we will take the appropriate actions to destroy any remaining documents that we are not required to keep. Upon your request, we will provide you with an electronic copy of your closed client file. 

What is collaborative?

Collaborative is alternative dispute process that can be used to resolve family matters out of court and with the assistance of a professional team. As part of the collaborative process, both parties retain their own attorneys. Both parties and their counsel sign a collaborative participation agreement that requires a commitment to transparency and to resolve matters out of court.

How does collaborative work?

The Collaborative process typically starts when one or both parties consult with a collaboratively trained attorney.  With the help of their attorneys, the parties may select additional professionals to be party of a collaborative team.  Additional professionals include Financial Neutrals, Divorce Coaches, and Child Specialists.  Each member of the Collaborative team must sign a Collaborative participation agreement, which requires 100% disclosure of all material facts, mutual respect, sharing of experts and information, and most importantly, a pledge to keep the matter out of court.  The end-goal of Collaborative is to reach an amicable and mutually acceptable solution.

Is Collaborative divorce faster than going to Court?

While there is no set timeline for a traditional or a Collaborative divorce, there is a tendency for Collaborative to take less time.  While each family situation is different, Collaborative provides a forward-looking, problem-solving approach, as opposed to litigation which often requires focusing on the past and assigning blame.

Is a Collaborative better for children?

Divorce is difficult on children no matter the process. collaborative divorce can help ease the burden. Because it’s a very client-centered process, the needs of children are emphasized and prioritized in Collaborative. Many times the Collaborative team includes a child specialist, which is a licensed mental health professional trained to help parents and professionals focus on the developmental needs and feelings of children and develop a co-parenting plan designed to meet those needs. 

What is the role of the mediator?

The mediator is completely neutral in the mediation in process. The mediator’s role is to help resolve disputes by guiding the decision-making process without advocating for either side. Mediators are required toadhere to the Maryland Standard of Conduct for Mediators.

Can the mediator make any decisions for the parties?

The mediator cannot make decisions for the parties, nor can the mediator give any legal, financial, or any other specialized advice. The mediator assists the parties in making decisions by guiding discussions in a neutral manner.

Is mediation confidential?

All mediations are confidential and the mediator cannot be called as a witness in any administrative or judicial proceedings. Maryland law allows for disclosures under certain circumstances, including when it isnecessary to prevent bodily harm or death.

What kinds of topics can be resolved through mediation?

Any type of conflict can be resolved in mediation. Mediators can help resolve a variety of family law matters from premarital issues to custody and child support, alimony, and even the division of marital property and debt.

Do I need a prenuptial agreement?

While it is not required that you have a premarital agreement, many people with premarital assets or children from a prior relationship, consider a prenup to avoid the legal and financial uncertainty that a death or divorce may cause in the future.

Are the terms of a prenuptial agreement predetermined?

Not necessarily. While it is common for one party to enlist the services of an attorney to draft a prenuptial agreement, the content may not be acceptable to both.  In many cases, a draft prenuptial agreement is nothing more than a starting point for communication. The contents of a prenuptial agreement are fact specific and should be tailored to meet the future needs of both parties to an agreement. Many couples participate in premarital mediation, negotiation, or collaboration to agree upon terms to be incorporated in a prenuptial agreement. If you are presented with a prenuptial agreement, it is important to have the agreement reviewed by an experienced attorney, who can explain your legal rights.

Can a couple work together to create a prenuptial agreement?

Absolutely. There are many ways that couples can work cooperatively to create a prenuptial agreement. During premarital mediation with the guidance of a neutral mediator, engaged couples can discuss a variety of marital issues that may cause difficulties in the future.  For example, premarital mediation can be used to reach agreements regarding the expectation for financial support, saving and spending styles, and even property division in the event of divorce or death.  

What types of things can be included in a prenuptial agreement?

Prenuptial agreements are fact and asset specific, so they vary on a case-by-case basis.  Prenuptial agreements may include provisions for the disposition of assets acquired before and during marriage, including: real property, bank accounts, automobiles, valuable personal property and retirement assets. The ability to be self-supporting and the availability or need for alimony may also be addressed in a prenup. While there are some things that cannot be included in a valid prenuptial agreement, the list of things that can be included is quite extensive. 

Can a prenuptial agreement contract for child custody?

No. While a prenuptial agreement is designed to be protection from the legal consequences of divorce or death, there are certain things that cannot be predetermined. A prenuptial agreement cannot contract for the custody of children, especially children that have not yet been born. It is also impossible for a prenup to prearrange how much a parent will pay for child support.

What happens to my Separation Agreement at the time of my divorce?

Following your divorce hearing, the court will enter a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, which incorporates the terms of your Separation Agreement, but does not merge the document into the final Judgment.  This means that your Separation Agreement will continue to exist as a distinct legal contract following your divorce.  The significance of this distinction is in the enforcement of your Agreement.  If your spouse does not follow the terms of your Agreement, you may seek enforcement of the Agreement through contractual remedies, or request that the court hold your spouse in contempt of a court order.

Can my spouse set aside our Separation Agreement?

Your spouse cannot set aside your Separation Agreement solely on the basis that they have become dissatisfied with the agreed upon terms. When you and your spouse entered into the Separation Agreement, you signed a contract.  To set aside the terms of your agreement (a contract), your spouse must show that their consent to enter into the contract was secured by means of duress, fraud, or undue influence.

What happens to property that I acquire after my spouse and I separate?

Until you are actually divorced, all property that you and your spouse acquire is marital property, regardless of whether you have already separated and regardless of title.  All income you earn after your separation and all personal or real property you acquire with marital funds, will be factored into the court’s determination as to the value and character of marital property.  If you are separated from your spouse and acquiring property, then you may first want to consider a Separation Agreement to shield any property acquired between your separation and divorce.   

If I move out, do I lose my interest in our home?

If you and your spouse own real property, then your decision to move out of the property, whatever the circumstances may be, does not surrender your interest in the property.  Your spouse cannot sell or otherwise dispose of jointly owned real property without your consent, and the court will include the real property in its valuation of your marital property even if you have moved out.

Can I change the locks if my spouse moves out?

If you and your spouse are jointly titled on the deed to your home, then you both retain a legal right to entry and use of the home.  Your spouse’s decision to move out does not surrender or terminate those legal rights.  While you may have legal authority to change the locks, your spouse may do so as well to regain entry.  If you believe that your spouse presents an imminent threat to your safety or the safety of your children, then it may be time to consider seeking a protective order.