Archive for the ‘New Cases and Laws’ Category

New Ground for Divorce

Posted on: March 9th, 2016 by whflwp No Comments

There has been a significant change in Maryland law that gives residents an option to obtain a divorce without any waiting period and without having to prove fault.  Previously, someone seeking an absolute, or final, divorce had to prove adultery or usually be separated for at least one year.  That often created a hardship as adultery is difficult to prove, and having to live separate and apart can have a severe economic impact on the parties.

As of October 1, 2015, that all changed as parties wishing to obtain a divorce may do so by mutual consent.  This new ground for divorce is available to parties if all of the following four conditions are met:

1. The parties cannot have any minor children in common;

2. The parties must have a written settlement agreement, signed by both parties, that resolves all issues relating to alimony and the distribution of property;

3. Neither party can file a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing; and

4. Both parties must appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.

If all of the above conditions are present, parties can obtain a divorce as soon as the settlement agreement is signed.  This allows divorcing couples to plan ahead and move on with their lives quickly and separately without having to wait twelve months as was so often the case.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about a divorce or are in need of our services.

Joint Accounts – Part 2

Posted on: January 6th, 2016 by whflwp No Comments

Last year, we wrote about a case where a daughter was charged and convicted of theft for taking money out of an account on which she was a joint owner with her father and using that money for herself. The daughter was convicted of theft in the trial court, and on appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, the conviction was affirmed.

The Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, agreed to hear the case and just handed-down its decision. In a lengthy 4 – 3 decision, the court affirmed both lower courts in rejecting the daughter’s argument that she could not be convicted of theft for taking money from an account in her name. It held,

“that: (I) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for theft where the individual willfully or knowingly obtained or exerted unauthorized control over funds—belonging to another—contained in a joint bank account without the other’s knowledge or consent and with the intent to deprive the other of those funds; statutorily granted authority permitting a party to a joint or multiple-party account to access and withdraw funds in the account does not confer ownership of the funds in the account to that party such that, as a matter of law, the party cannot be guilty of theft; and (II) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for embezzlement (fraudulent misappropriation by fiduciary).”

The dissent argued that the decision interferes with family relationships, and could allow a parent to criminalize behavior that had been approved simply because of a change in the parent-child relationship.

A warning to the wise. If you have a joint bank account with another person, you may want to consider having something in writing that addresses whether the funds in the account are truly owned by each account owner, or whether access of one or more account owners is limited to using the funds for another owner’s benefit. Such an agreement would clarify for all parties the nature of the relationship so that no misunderstandings, or criminal cases, will result.

Be Careful About Joint Accounts

Posted on: October 31st, 2014 by whflwp No Comments

A recent case from the Court of Special Appeals (on appeal to the Court of Special Appeals) held that a person is not an “owner” of a bank account simply because her name was on the account for the purposes of allowing withdrawals. In Wagner v. State of Maryland, a father added his daughter’s name to his bank account so she could withdraw money in the event he was not able to go to the bank. There was no agreement that his daughter would have access to the money for her own use. Despite this, the daughter took nearly $125,000 from the account. She was charged with theft.

She argued that because she had the right to withdraw funds, she could not be charged with theft. The court disagreed, holding that while she did have the right to make withdrawals, she could only lawfully use the money for her father’s benefit. When she took money for her own use, it became a criminal act.

People who have their names added to a bank account for the convenience of the primary account holder must be careful to use any money they withdraw for the primary account holder’s benefit. All expenditures should be documented in the event proof is necessary to avoid the suggestion of criminal conduct. The moral of the story: Just because your name is on the account does not make it yours. If your name is added to an account and the understanding is that you can use the money for your own benefit, get something in writing to protect yourself in the event it is challenged later.

Court Saves Failure to Assign Retirement Benefits

Posted on: July 31st, 2014 by whflwp No Comments

In many divorce cases, one spouse’s retirement benefits can be divided between the parties so that the other spouse receives a beneficial interest in the retirement plan.  In such cases, the retirement plan administrator is notified of the division and when benefits are paid, they are paid to each spouse accordingly.  It is important that the plan administrator be notified about the new division because if not, despite a court order, all of the benefits will still be paid to only one spouse.

It gets more complicated when the spouse with the retirement benefits dies, and names someone other then his ex-spouse as the beneficiary.  Then, the surviving spouse gets nothing.

In Robinette v. Hunsecker, that’s exactly what happened.  The parties never told the plan administrator that there was an agreement that the ex-wife would receive some of her former husband’s retirement benefits.  He died, and named his second wife as beneficiary.  The court held that since the parties had an agreement, it was inequitable for the second wife to receive the ex-wife’s benefits.  The court ordered that all future benefits be paid in accordance with the parties’ agreement, and that the second wife had to pay to the ex-wife the amount of benefits she should have received.  The courts don’t always save people from their own inaction, but in this case they did what the parties intended.

WHFL Successful in Court of Appeals Workers’ Compensation Case

Posted on: July 21st, 2014 by whflwp No Comments

In an appeal brought by Stephen S. Winegrad of Winegrad, Hess, Friedman & Levitt, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s finding that a worker who seriously injured himself while working was an employee entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  In Elms v. Renewal by Anderson, the employer argued, unsuccessfully, that Elms was an independent contractor not entitled to benefits.  WHFL argued that Elms was an employee because the employer exercised control over his work.  The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that since Elms was a common law employee, no analysis was needed under Section 9-508 (statutory employer).  This means that Elms is entitled to benefits for his injury.

Stephen S. Winegrad and Winegrad, Hess, Friedman & Levitt regularly represent injured workers in worker’s compensation claims and third-party claims.  Please contact Mr. Winegrad if you have a claim or have any questions.

Protection of Personal Social Media Information

Posted on: April 9th, 2012 by admin No Comments

Under a new proposed law, Maryland employers would not be able to request or require that an employee or applicant disclose any user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device.  In other words, no employee or applicant (more…)

Fee Increases Filings in Land Records

Posted on: June 17th, 2011 by admin No Comments

Effective July 1, 2011, there will be a statewide increase in the surcharge fee from $20 to $40 on most documents and financing statements executed and recorded on or after July 1, 2011. Documents executed before July 1, 2011, even if recorded after that date, will not incur the additional surcharge.

New Ground for Divorce

Posted on: April 18th, 2011 by admin No Comments

During the 2011 legislative session, a significant change was made to Maryland law concerning divorce. The amount of time parties must have lived separate and apart without cohabitation and without interruption before filing a complaint for divorce in court has been reduced from 24 (more…)

New Rules for Bringing Cell Phones to Court

Posted on: January 3rd, 2011 by admin No Comments

New rules are in effect concerning the possession and use of electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, cameras, and other electronic devices in Maryland courts. If you bring such devices to court, please be aware of the following rules: (more…)

“Red Flags” Rules Clarified

Posted on: December 13th, 2010 by admin No Comments

The United States Senate and the House of Representatives have voted to exempt lawyers and other service providers from the so-called Red Flags Rule. The law, applicable to “creditors” who provide services before being paid, would have required onerous record-keeping requirements in order to curtail identity theft. Initially, the FTC opined that attorneys, physicians, accountants, (more…)