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Recent Developments in Maryland Family Law

By: Ferrier R. Stillman and Catherine P. Villareale

Two family law bills passed by the General Assembly, and signed by the Governor this spring, became law on October 1, 2017. 

The Health Care Decisions Act:  Previously, a spouse had the unfettered right to make health care decisions on behalf of the other spouse in the event of incapacitation, even if the ill spouse never executed an Advanced Medical Directive or Living Will.  The spouse’s right to make decisions has been modified under the new law, and individuals in the following categories are disqualified from serving as a health care agent for his or her spouse:

  1. A spouse against whom the ill spouse has obtained an interim, temporary, or final protective order; and

  2. A spouse who has signed a separation agreement or filed for divorce.

Note that this new law does not automatically prevent all separated spouses from serving as their husbands’ or wives’ health care decision makers when the ill spouse does not have a medical directive or living will; they are only barred from doing so when they have a signed separation agreement or have filed for divorce. There are many spouses who have separated, but have not yet settled their cases or started a case in court. Therefore, if this is a concern for a separated spouse, he or she may want to either draft an Advanced Medical Directive or Living Will or change their existing one. That way, they can choose whom they want to make medical decisions for them if they are incapacitated.  However, if a spouse who has filed for divorce or has a signed separation agreement still wants the other spouse to serve to as the health care decision maker, that is allowed.

Another law that went into effect on October 1 allows domestic violence protective orders to be admitted into evidence in support of a person’s claim for divorce.  The law removes the arcane prohibition against a judge considering a protective order in support of a party’s claim for divorce. Essentially, this makes it easier for victims of intimate partner abuse to obtain a divorce and could impact court decisions on custody.

If you have any questions about this article or other family law issues, please contact Ferrier R. Stillman, Catherine P. Villareale, or another member of Tydings’ family law department. The firm has offices in downtown Baltimore and Towson.

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