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What is a Separation Agreement?

Separation Agreements

This website provides a basic understanding of the laws regarding divorce, and how those laws play out in the Maryland Court System. However, it is always possible that the issues incident to your divorce can be resolved outside of the legal system.

It is preferable and less costly if the spouses resolve their differences by way of an agreement; commonly called a Separation Agreement. If you and your spouse are able to resolve the issues relating to their marriage (either on your own or through the assistance of your attorneys) then the terms of that resolution can be written into a Separation Agreement. An attorney cannot represent both parties in preparing a Separation Agreement and it is wise for each spouse to retain his/her own attorney to represent and negotiate the various terms within the agreement. A Separation Agreement is treated as a contract. If someone fails to abide by the terms of the contract, then the Courts can hold that person accountable.

In order to aid the spouses in coming to an amicable resolution and entering into a Separation Agreement, an impartial mediator is often hired or the parties may enter into a collaborative process where trained attorneys attempt to resolve their client’s differences outside the court arena. Both of these avenues have become popular and less costly than a court resolve provided that the spouses are willing to be open and fair with one another. In the case of mediation (where often an attorney is not present aiding its client) it is important that the client enter into this process with an understanding of his or hers rights and responsibilities under the law. For some clients this face to face format may not be appropriate as it initiates some of the personalities and issues which caused the demise of the marriage. An experienced attorney will be able to advise clients as to the appropriateness of these alternative formats. Under no circumstances should a spouse finalize an agreement during mediation or collaboration without a thorough review by an attorney of the contemplated Agreement.

Sometimes clients will come to our office with an idea of a settlement and will ask that we prepare a Separation Agreement on their behalf. We will listen carefully to the terms of an agreement that a client proposes, and ask them questions about how they decided upon those terms. If we have concerns about the agreement and whether or not it protects the client’s best interest, we will express these concerns. We encourage spouses and litigants to resolve their differences outside the courtroom, but only after they are informed of the law. After a client knows his/her rights and liabilities, we will prepare any Separation Agreement that he/she requests.

What types of issues can a Separation Agreement address?

The following are samples of categories which would ordinarily be contained in a Separation Agreement:

1.Custody of the child or children

2.Child support

3.Alimony, including special provisions which would terminate or limit the alimony

4.Life insurance

5.College obligations

6.Payment of outstanding debts

7.Payment on the mortgage

8.Payment of the car(s) and insurance

9.Medical insurance and uncovered medical expenses

10.Dependency deductions on federal and state tax returns

11.Counsel fees

12.Use and possession of the family home and furniture

13.The filing of single or joint tax returns

14.Revocation of existing wills

15.Waiver of the statutory spousal share in event of death

16.Social security issues

17.The division of retirement, 401k, IRA and other deferred compensation accounts

18.The freedom to date and have relationships and the ability of each spouse to live separate and apart from one another without interference or harassment

19.Access schedule for the child or children

20.The lump sum payment as a result of the equitable division of the property in each spouse’s name

21.The credit for existing property that a spouse had or is traceable to assets prior to the marriage, inheritance or gifts from a third party

22.The use of one’s maiden name

23.The cancellation of joint credit cards

24.Guardianship and child support issues of any child who would not otherwise be capable of being independent or legally emancipated

25.Any special provision to protect the child during any access schedule, such as not being present with any paramour of the spouse or being in any unsafe environment

26.The tax implications of the transferring of assets, alimony and child support

If I enter into a Separation Agreement with my spouse, does that mean we are divorced?

•No— entering into a Separation Agreement does not mean you and your spouse are divorced. In order to get divorced, an attorney must file a pleading after a period of one year separation and appear before a judge or a Master for Domestic Relations. At this hearing, a witness will attest to the one year separation If the Judge or Master grants the divorce, a Judgment of Absolute Divorce will be entered. In some cases, the Court will consider whether the child support contained in the Separation Agreement is consistent with the then child support guidelines.

If my spouse and I enter into a Separation Agreement, will that Agreement be part of our Judgment of Absolute Divorce?

•Yes—if you and your spouse enter into a Separation Agreement, that Agreement can become part of your Judgment of Absolute Divorce. Your attorney will ask the Judge to do this at your actual divorce hearing. At the hearing, your attorney will tell the Judge that you and your spouse have entered into a Separation Agreement, describe the terms of the separation agreement, and ask that the Separation Agreement be incorporated into the Judgment of Absolute Divorce. When this happens, it will become the terms upon which the parties are required to abide and in most cases its breach can be brought before the Court by way of a Petition for Contempt  

Joint Custody For All?

According to Maryland Law, if parents of a minor child live apart, a court may award custody to either parent individually, or joint custody to both parents. It is noted that custody determinations must be made by careful examination of facts on a case by case basis in order to determine what is in the best interest of the child. So, what do courts look at when determining what is in the best interest of a child? Is a child’s best interest always presumed to be with the mother? Or is there a presumption that the child’s best interest is with the father? What about a presumption that the child’s best interest is with both parents?

A bill that has been trying to force its way to victory has been known as House Bill 888. House Bill 888 is the Joint Custody Presumption Bill. Introduced once again at the beginning of the year, this bill would require courts to start with the presumption that joint physical and legal custody for equal periods of time to the mother and father is in the best interest of the minor child.

Currently, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have statutory provisions that permit a court to initially presume that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. With a growing number of states passing the Joint Custody Presumption bill and the like, Maryland still seems quite unimpressed with the bill. Maryland, unlike some states, does not have a statutory definition of joint custody. In addition, Maryland does not statutorily have a set list of factors in determining joint custody between two parents. However, courts rely on factors found in a 1986 Court of Appeals case where a judge granted joint custody to divorced parents. The factors examined were (1) willingness of parents to share custody, (2) fitness of parents, (3) relationship established between the child and each parent, (4) preference of the child, (5) potential disruption of child’s social and school life, (6) geographic proximity of parental homes, (7) demands of parental employment, (8) sincerity of parents’ requests; (9) financial status of the parents. While passing House Bill 888 won’t take away the examination of these factors, all it seems to request is that courts assume that joint custody is what is best. After examination of these factors, if joint custody is seemingly the wrong decision, then the court would make other decisions. House Bill 888 just seeks to have a set starting point for custody decisions.

While Maryland seems to be lagging behind in passing House Bill 888, we still hold true that Maryland courts will examine all factors necessary in order to decide what is in the best interest of the child even though they may not start with the presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.

MD Code, Family Law, § 5-203.

The Maryland Bar Journal (Jan./Feb. 2012)

Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290 (1997). 

Consult an Attorney Before Signing a 

Marital Settlement Agreement

One of the most frustrating experiences for family law attorneys is when a client comes to seek our advice for a divorce after he/she has already signed a Settlement Agreement. This happens all too often, and we understand why: People are eager to resolve their domestic difficulties as quickly and economically as possible. But it is extremely important that you take the time and seek the advice you need before entering into a Settlement Agreement. Otherwise, what you think is a simple resolution could turn into a highly controversial matter, while trying to undo what has already been done.

What you may think you are agreeing to may not be allowable by the law of this State and/or may not address your rights and obligations in a divorce action. Legal information obtained on the internet is not a substitute for the knowledge of a competent, licensed attorney. Remember, we all know that you should not rely on the internet to diagnose your health concerns, and just as importantly, you should not rely on information on the internet to resolve your marital difficulties. Here are some things to keep in mind about settlement agreements:

  • It is extremely difficult to modify a Settlement Agreement after it has been signed. Often Settlement Agreements will include language that states "this provision is non-modifiable." If you sign a Settlement Agreement with that language, absent very specifics circumstances, there is little chance that you would ever be able to change it.
  • Settlement Agreements are contracts and are legally enforceable as contracts whether they are fair or not. This means that even if a Settlement Agreement is unfair to you, and does not give you the rights to which you are entitled, you are still obligated to abide by it until/unless it is modified or vacated.
  • Generalizations found on the internet about different areas of law, i.e. alimony, custody, child support, family finances and assets, are often only generalizations and often do not apply to your specific circumstances or state jurisdiction.
  • Therapists are not attorneys; they do not know your rights and obligations under the law. Sometimes a therapist will work with spouses to help them come to a settlement agreement without the necessity of court intervention. While there is nothing wrong with working with a therapist to come up with a broad agreement, the advice of a therapist does not replace the advice of an attorney.
  • Mediators do not represent your personal interests. Many couples work with a mediator to help them come to a settlement in their case. The role of a mediator is to play an impartial role in helping people resolve their marital difficulties. A mediator is not your advocate, and will not offer you legal advice. The role of an attorney, on the other hand, is to act as your advocate and in your best interest.
  • Domestic laws vary from state to state; a sample Settlement Agreement that you find online may not accurately represent the laws in the state of Maryland. Sometimes people use sample settlement agreements that they find online as a basis for their own settlement agreement. This can pose major problems if you are using an Agreement that does not apply the laws of the State of Maryland.

In short, when facing marital difficulties, you must take the route with which you feel most comfortable while also protecting yourself. There is nothing wrong with entering into a Settlement Agreement; in fact, it is often encouraged. But you should never sign a Settlement Agreement without having it reviewed by an experienced family law attorney. We assure you that the time and money it takes to have an attorney review your Settlement Agreement and offer you advice will be extremely minimal compared to the time and money you will face if you enter into a Settlement Agreement that does not protect you.

Introduction to Abramson & Rand, LLC

The roots of Abramson & Rand, LLC date back to a time when there were less than five private attorneys with offices in Columbia, Maryland and less than 20 private attorneys in Howard County. Back to a time before area codes were necessary for calling a local telephone number. Back to a time when the customary hourly rate for attorneys was $35.00 per hour (I’m sure many of our clients wish that were true today). Back to a time when there were only two Howard County circuit court judges and one Howard County district court judge. Back to a time when Route 29 was just a two lane country road; Columbia Mall was only 2 years old; Routes 32 and 100 did not yet exist; and Howard County had a population of only about 30,000 people.

Abramson & Rand, LLC (as the firm is now known) began in the Spring of 1972 when its founding partner, Joel Marc Abramson, began practicing in Howard County, Maryland. Initially, Joel practiced as a Criminal Prosecutor (at that time, one was allowed to also pursue a private practice) and soon became one of the pioneer attorneys in Howard County and was at the forefront of many of the exciting changes of both the laws and the community. He soon expanded his practice into other legal fields and represented home builders, farm bureaus, and was instrumental in the development of the many of Columbia’s village associations. The firm owned one of the earliest title companies in Columbia. His law office was on the forefront of land use policies in the county.

Joel was one of only a handful of family law practitioners in the County and was a forerunner in the development and evolution of family law in Maryland. When Joel began practicing family law over 40 years ago, there were no child support guidelines, no monetary award statute and no family law code. At that time, adultery barred a wife from receiving alimony and women were given preference in custody matters, especially when the children were of tender years. In 1974, Joel founded the Domestic Relations Subcommittee of the Howard County Bar and became its first chairperson. He was formerly chosen by the Howard County Bar to be a member of the Board of Governors of the Maryland State Bar Association, and was asked at that time by the Maryland Bar Association to give numerous lectures in the area of Domestic Relations as part of its Continuing Education Program. Joel argued many early landmark cases before the appellate courts of Maryland before and after the introduction of the monetary award statute and family law code. Joel continues to practice law and he is often consulted by his partner and associates regarding complex legal matters due to his years of experience and legal acumen.

Christopher Rand has strong ties to Howard County. His family came to Howard County in the 1940’s and his grandfather formerly owned Boarman’s Market in Highland, Maryland. Chris has lived in Howard County his entire life. Chris is an active supporter of and contributor to his local 4-H club. He assists his three children as they raise, care for and show their farm animals which include sheep, pigs and chickens at the Howard County Fair and Maryland State Fair.

Chris began working for Joel as a law clerk in 1996. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Towson State University and then attended the University of Baltimore School of Law. Chris served as student attorney at the University of Baltimore Family Law Clinic providing counsel for low-income clients seeking legal assistance. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Chris was handling his first contested case before the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. As our nation will never forget, the terrorist events of that day cut short the trial and the courthouse was evacuated, etching into Chris’s memory his first contested case and where he was the moment of the 9/11 attacks. Once he became a licensed attorney, he continued work at the Law Offices of Joel Marc Abramson (as Abramson & Rand, LLC was formerly known) as an associate. After successfully handling complex domestic and other civil litigation matters, he became a partner in 2008 and the Law Office of Joel Marc Abramson became Abramson & Rand, LLC.

Leila Rundell was raised in Western Howard County with her family having ties to the County dating back to the 1970s. She attended college at Loyola College (now Loyola University) in Baltimore. While in college she served in the Governor’s Summer Internship Program during the gubernatorial term of Gov. Martin Glendening. While attending law school at the George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C., she interned with the Honorable Dennis M. Sweeney (retired) for the Circuit Court for Howard County, where her interest in family law first began as she witnessed domestic litigation from the purview of the court. She even remembers seeing Joel litigating in court – little did she know, then, that she would eventually work for his firm. During her last year of law school, Leila began working as a law clerk for the Law Office of Joel Marc Abramson and remained at the firm once she obtained her legal decree and license. Leila served on the school board of her alma mater, Chapelgate Christian Academy, for 6 years and remains actively involved in her church and community.

Lindsey Frank, a Maryland native, joined Abramson & Rand, LLC in 2011 as a law clerk while she attended law school at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Lindsey served as student attorney at the University of Baltimore Family Law Clinic providing counsel for low-income clients seeking legal assistance. At her time serving in the family law clinic, she worked with a team of student attorneys to research and propose legislation and helped form a coalition on behalf of domestic violence victims. Upon graduating and obtaining her legal license, she became an associate of Abramson & Rand, LLC in 2012. Lindsey serves as a legal consultant on the board of Shari’s Promise, an organization that seeks to end child sexual abuse, empower victims and teach communities how to prevent abuse, recognize the signs of abuse and react responsibly.

The attorneys of Abramson & Rand are close-knit and have deep roots in Howard County and its surrounding counties. Their clients benefit from their collective experiences and expertise as they strategize and consult with one another (utilizing their combined 60 years of legal expertise) to provide their clients with outstanding representation and creative solutions to their legal issues.

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