When the two parties to the marriage do not agree to divorce, or do not agree to the terms of divorce, then the divorce becomes “contested.” Maryland Courts label divorce cases contested when all issues in the case can not be resolved. This will lead the case to a trial before a Judge where some or all unresolved issues will be determined after evidence is taken by a Judgment of the Court.
Contested divorce cases are heard by the Circuit Courts of Maryland, which are governed by the Maryland Rules of Procedure. Divorce cases are scheduled by circuit court administrators to be complete with a final judgment within one year of filing, when possible. This means that contested divorce cases move at a fast pace. Cases begin with the filing and serving of pleadings (meaning a complaint and answer) which set forth the claims being asserted. Then cases move into a phase called discovery during which the parties may: request documents and evidence from the other party; require a party to give testimony by deposition; require the other party to answer questions in the form of Interrogatories; and where testimony and documents may be requested of third party witnesses. Depending on the case, discovery can be a very important and involved process.
In contested divorce cases, the Circuit Court will usually hold a scheduling conference where the parties must be present and where the schedule for the case is set. At this conference, child custody, support, and other issues will be preliminarily addressed by the court. These preliminary terms will be for the duration of the case until final terms are determined. This is called a ‘Hearing Pendente Lite,’ meaning a hearing to set forth such terms as are necessary during the “pendency of the litigation.”
After discovery is closed, the court usually orders a Pre-Trial Hearing (also known as a Settlement Conference) to see if the parties cannot with some help settle the case. If the case does not settle, then it goes to full trial before a Judge. A divorce trial is governed by the same rules as other civil cases, and follows the same trial format of Opening statements, bringing of evidence including witnesses and testimony, closing arguments and a final judgment by the court. There are no juries in divorce cases. Divorce cases are heard and decided by a Judge. In the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court notice becomes publicly available of the of the judge who will hear a case on the afternoon before the case is scheduled. This means that parties cannot choose their judge, but the judge selection is random and unknown until the day before trial.
At the Law Office of Kendall Summers we aggressively pursue litigation for our clients in contested cases, taking all means to protect our client’s rights and to assist them in making informed and good judgments about their case. We pursue discovery aggressively based on the needs of each client and case. Our clients receive personal, comprehensive and strategically advantageous legal advice to guide them through each step of the contested divorce case process.