Our Courts are open for emergency cases like Domestic Violence during COVID-19; and Fait & DiLima is open for business and available to you by telephone, email, Zoom and other remote platforms for consultations, as well as emergencies. Haga clic aqui para espanol.

Divorce in the State of Maryland, Short Topic Answers – Pet Custody, Health Insurance, Child Expenses

Many topics on divorce in the state of Maryland require a lengthy explanation, often covering several pages.  This collection of topics are explained quickly and with relatively short answers.  As always, refer questions to your family law attorney and follow his or her advice.  These issues are not simple and this post is designed to quickly provide basic answers, and are not intended to reflect legal advice in your specific case.

Pets

In some marriages, the parties view their “fur babies” as their children.  The parties often become extremely attached to their pets, which causes strife during divorce proceedings.  However, despite the parties’ feelings, courts do not view pets the same as children.  The process for deciding “pet custody” differs dramatically from child custody determinations.

The state of Maryland considers pets “property.”  While it may seem cold, the process of deciding where pets go mirrors determinations such as what happens to other pieces of property, like the golf clubs or the piano.  On the positive side, this means prenuptial or postnuptial agreements provide a vehicle for deciding pet “custody” well in advance of any divorce proceeding.  If the parties cannot agree, courts resolve the issue, just like any other property disagreement.

Factors For Deciding “Pet Custody”

A number of factors impact the court’s decision on which party gets the pets.  Prior ownership does not necessarily determine pet custody.  Pets may become marital property after the marriage.

It is important to establish the primary caregiver for the pets.  Which party brought the pets to the vet?  Who took the pets for walks? Which party bought the food for the pets?

Another important factor in “pet custody” is determining which party is better able to care for the pets.  This can include a party that works long hours or travels often versus a party that works at home.  Housing circumstances may also have an impact.  Does one party have a house with a yard versus a party with a cramped apartment?  It can also be useful to demonstrate that a party has someone the pets are familiar with to care for them when the party is unavailable.

Child custody may also affect the award of pets.  Courts recognize the benefits to children of being able to spend time with a beloved pet.  Pets and the children benefit when the pets stay with the children.

Some divorcing couples consider joint “pet custody.  In this case, the parties determine the specifics of “custody,” such as when each party enjoys the pet’s company, and who pays for veterinary care and/or pet insurance=.  The attorneys incorporate this agreement in the final divorce decree.

Maryland law takes into account pets in cases involving allegations of abuse.  Specifically, in cases where the court finds “reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has abused a person eligible for relief”, an interim protective order may “award temporary possession of any pet of the person eligible for relief or the respondent.”  Maryland Family Law statute section 4–504.1(c)(9).

Health Insurance for a Spouse After a Divorce

Benefits for a spouse covered by the ex-spouse’s employer health insurance plan terminate when the divorce finalizes.  The ex-spouse retains the option of obtaining health insurance through the Federal COBRA plan.  The state of Maryland also provides a continuation of coverage option through Maryland state law.

Maryland Insurance Law statute section 15-408 details Maryland continuation of group coverage.  Maryland state law may make group health insurance available through an ex-spouse’s employer based group coverage for a longer period of time, but restrictions and requirements must be considered.

An ex-spouse may find health insurance is cheaper or provides better coverage on the Maryland insurance market.  This area of the law is complicated and subject to change.  As a result, best practices include consulting with a qualified, experienced Maryland family law attorney.  Additionally, because cost of health insurance can be significant, this cost should be considered while drafting a final divorce decree.

Parties may also find it advantageous to delay finalization of a divorce as this also delays increased medical insurance expenses.  This may provide the parties with additional savings temporarily, in some cases better coverage, and may be negotiated between the parties.

Expenses For Children After Divorce

Children involve significant expenses.  During a marriage, the parties may not consider those expenses.  However, sometimes financial situations change dramatically as a result of divorce.  Consequently, a final divorce decree appropriately contemplates those child expenses.

Maryland Family Law statute section 12–204 provides for child support for minor children after a divorce.  Section 12-204(a)(1) provides that, “[t]he basic child support obligation shall be divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes.”  The statute goes on to provide more detail on the child support calculations, including payments for child care.  Maryland Family Law statute section 12-204(g).

The same statute provides for payment of health insurance expenses for the children after a divorce.  Maryland Family Law statute section 12-204(h).  The statute provides “the actual cost of providing health insurance coverage for a child for whom the parents are jointly and severally responsible shall be added to the basic child support obligation and shall be divided by the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes.”  Maryland Family Law statute section 12-204(h)(1).  Further, “[a]ny extraordinary medical expenses incurred on behalf of a child shall be added to the basic child support obligation and shall be divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes.”  Maryland Family Law statute section 12-204(h)(2).  The final divorce decree should include provision for payment for this coverage.

If You Have Family Law Questions

If you have questions about family law, our attorneys can help.  Whether you have basic questions about how a court views “pet custody” or concerns about alimony or child custody, at Fait & DiLima, we pride ourselves on providing accurate, timely advice on family law issues. Contact us today to discuss your questions.

Categories