The following instructions were taken from General Instructions: For use with All DOM REL Forms (Maryland Department of Family Administration, Administrative Office of the Courts). They have been modified to reflect Montgomery County Circuit Court requirements. Please read these instructions before you file your papers.
IF YOUR CASE IS NOT HANDLED PROPERLY, YOU CAN LOSE TIME AND MONEY, AND POSSIBLY, IMPORTANT LEGAL RIGHTS!
For an online resource for self-help, selfhelpsupport.org can be a valuable source of information to an individual who is representing him/herself.
- the case is disputed or the other side has a lawyer;
- you cannot locate the other side to serve him or her with your papers;
- this is a divorce case and either you or your spouse has a house, a pension or a large amount of property or income. (Note: Even if it is a friendly divorce, you SHOULD talk to a lawyer before you sign any settlement papers or file anything in court.);
- alimony, custody, visitation or child support is disputed;
- paternity is disputed; or
- you have been married for close to ten years, which may entitle you to certain benefits.
You may also need a lawyer if, after reading these instructions, you feel unable to file your case. You can consult with a lawyer at any time during the course of your case, BUT hiring a lawyer at the last minute usually will not be grounds for a postponement and many lawyers will not take a case at the last minute.
Where Can I Find Legal Services?
In simple, uncontested cases, the Family Law Self Help Center (located in the South Tower 1st floor, room 1500 of the Circuit Court) and the Legal Forms Helpline (1-800-818-9888 and 1-877-293-2507 (Spanish)) provide free assistance with the forms. For information on how to find a lawyer, call the Lawyer Referral Service at (301) 279-9100.
NOTE: The Clerk of the Court or other court representative cannot provide legal advice and cannot assist you in the selection of the proper form(s) or aid you in completing the form(s).
Where Can I Find Forms?
Domestic Relations Forms (Dom. Rel. Forms) are available for free at the Family Department Window located on the 1st floor (South Tower 1st floor, Room 1460) of the Montgomery County Circuit Court. They are also available online in English and Spanish through the Maryland Department of Family Administration‘s website.
Where Should I File My Forms?
All family law cases are filed in the Circuit Court except for a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence which can be filed in the Circuit Court or District Court. There are Circuit Courts and District Courts in Baltimore City and all counties of the state. Please make sure that you file in the proper Court. Filing in the wrong court can result in dismissal of your case.
- The Clerk's Office cannot assist you in the selection of the proper form (Dom.Rel.Forms) or aid you in the completion of forms.
- There are instructions to help you complete the forms. Read the forms and instructions carefully before you start filling out the forms.
- Complete each form you need to start or to answer the case.
- Make sure all names and addresses are correct, and consistent throughout the forms.
- If you do not have an address for the other side and have done everything you can to find the address, call the Legal Forms Helpline (1-800-818-9888) to see if resources are available in your county to assist you.
- You MUST file a Civil-Domestic Case Information Report in addition to the Dom.Rel.Forms. Check each box that you think applies to your case and how you think the case should be scheduled.
- File the completed forms with the Clerk of Court. You should make at least 2 copies of your papers when you are filing your case: the original for the court, one for the other side, and one for yourself.
- All papers you file with the court must also be served on the other side.
- A divorce case MUST be filed in the county where you live or where the other side lives or works.
- A case involving custody, visitation, child support or contempt usually should be filed in the jurisdiction where a divorce has been filed or granted, but can sometimes be filed where the child or either parent lives.
If there is an earlier case filed between you and the other side in one county, you may be required to file your current case/request in that county. However, there are circumstances that may allow a change of filing location. This is a situation that probably requires a lawyer's assistance.
Where Do I File an Answer?
You must file in the county where the Complaint, Petition, or Motion was filed. If you believe the other side filed in the wrong county, you can ask the court to move the case to the appropriate county. This is a situation that requires a lawyer’s assistance.
- Original Complaints or Petitions to Modify Orders entered by another Court: $135
- Contempt Petitions: $25
- Petitions to Modify a Montgomery County Order: $25 each
The Court may decide that you don't have to pay these fees, in some cases, because you can't afford to pay or because of hardship. You may not have to pay other costs and fees depending upon the financial circumstances of the parties. To apply for a WAIVER OF PREPAYMENT OF FILING FEES, file Dom. Rel. Form 32 at the time you file your papers.
What Is Service and How Do I Serve Someone?
Service is making certain the other side receives a copy of the papers you are filing. Service must be accomplished on the other side as described below or your case cannot go forward. YOU CANNOT SERVE THE OTHER SIDE YOURSELF.
How Do I Serve the Other Side With a Complaint, Petition Or Motion?
The Court will issue a Writ of Summons; you must make sure that the Writ of Summons is attached to a copy of the Complaint, Petition, or Motion. These papers must be served on the other side along with any other forms you have filed, such as a Domestic Case Information Report or a Financial Statement. Service can be made one of several ways:
- Private Process
- Certified Mail
Whichever method you choose, proof that the other side was served must be filed with the court. A person can be served at home, at work, or anywhere else the person happens to be.
- Take your papers to the Sheriff’s Office on the "T" level of the Montgomery County Circuit Court
- Pay a $40 service fee
- Check with the Clerk to see if the other side has been served since the sheriff will send the clerk a "return of service" to prove the sheriff served the papers
(1) By a private process serving company for a fee. This method is often fast and is also good if the other side is hard to locate.
- Ask the Clerk of Court to give you back the Writ of Summons and the other papers to be served
- Give the process server the Affidavit of Service (Dom.Rel.Form 55) and the papers to be served. Ask the process server to return the completed Affidavit of Service to you once the other side is served. File the completed Affidavit with a copy of the Writ of Summons attached with the Clerk of Court
(2) By an adult over the age of 18. This is an inexpensive way to serve someone. THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER CANNOT BE YOU. You CANNOT serve the papers yourself.
- The adult serving the papers must hand deliver the papers directly to the other side. The papers can also be left at the other party’s address with anyone of suitable age and discretion, who is also a resident at that address
- Have the person who served the other side fill out an Affidavit of Service (Dom. Rel.Form 55) completely
- File the Affidavit, with a copy of the Writ of Summons attached, with the Clerk of Court to prove the other side was served
Service by Certified Mail (Restricted Delivery And Return Receipt Requested)
This is a good method of service if the other side lives far from you. It does require that the other side accept the papers and personally sign the post office receipt card (green card).
- Have someone other than you take the papers to the Post Office and follow the instructions for mailing by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested.
- Have the person who mailed the papers fill out an Affidavit (Dom.Rel.Form 56). If the other side receives the papers, the receipt (green card) will be returned to you with the other side's signature.
- Attach the original receipt (green card) and a copy of the Writ of Summons to the completed Affidavit, and file the Affidavit with the Clerk of Court as proof that the other side received the papers.
- If the receipt (green card) is returned with the wrong signature or if the entire envelope comes back undelivered, you will need to make another attempt at service or see an attorney.
What Happens If Service Is Not Achieved (not successfully completed)?
There may have to be several attempts to serve the other side by using different methods. A Writ of Summons is only good for 60 days. You will have to ask the Clerk of Court in writing to issue a new Writ of Summons if the other side has not been served within 60 days. If several attempts to serve the other side have been unsuccessful you will probably need an attorney.
|If your spouse is served:||Your spouse should answer within:|
|In Maryland||30 days after service|
|In another state||60 days after service|
|Outside the United States||90 days after service|
If your spouse has not filed an answer by the required time, file a Request for Order of Default (Dom.Rel. 54).
- Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Answer. Do not forget to file your Answer with the Clerk of Court.
- Mail your papers. If you are serving a Counterclaim with your Answer, you may serve the Counterclaim (including all other Dom. Rel. Forms you have attached to the Counterclaim) by mailing copies of everything to the other side regular first class mail, postage prepaid.
- File your papers. Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Counterclaim. Do not forget to file the original Counterclaim and all of the forms attached to the Counterclaim with the Clerk of Court.
How Do I Get A Hearing Date?
A hearing date is automatically scheduled in Montgomery County when you file an Affidavit of Service, when the Sheriff files a Return of Service, or when the other party files an Answer. To make sure that you get all notices and papers in your case, always update the Clerk of Court, and the other side, with your current mailing address. Notify the Clerk of Court and the other side immediately in writing if you move.
If you have to miss your court date because of an emergency, call the Family Division Masters department (240-777-9054) BEFORE you are scheduled to be in court.
Before the day your case is scheduled:
- Make sure all documents or other evidence, such as pay stubs or pictures, are in order and make extra copies for the court and the other side.
- If divorce is an issue before the Court or Family Division Master at the hearing, you must also have at least one witness, other than yourself, to corroborate your grounds for divorce (i.e., lived separate and apart from spouse without an intimate sexual relationship for one year). Make sure that the witness knows when he/she needs to come to Court, how to find the court or hearing room, and what he/she is expected to do during the court proceeding. No divorce will be granted without a corroborating witness. Your spouse cannot be the corroborating witness.
On the day your case is scheduled:
- Make sure you come to the Circuit Court (Judicial Center, 50 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Maryland) early.
- Check the television monitor on the 2nd floor for the location of the courtroom or hearing room where your case is assigned. If your case is not listed, check with the Assignment Office on the 1st floor.
- Upon arrival at the courtroom or hearing room, check in with court personnel. If you are not in the courtroom or hearing room when your case is called, your case could be thrown out or the court could rule in favor of the other side.
- Check if your documents or other evidence, as well as copies for the Court and the other party are with you and are in order.
- If divorce is an issue before the Court or Family Division Master at the hearing, your witness(es) must corroborate your grounds for divorce. The other side will also have a chance to tell their story and can present the same kinds of evidence. Both sides will have a chance to cross-examine the other side and the other side's witnesses.
- It is important to remember that a Family Division Master's recommendation is not a court order. A court order must be prepared restating the Family Division Master's recommendation and signed by a judge to be enforceable.
If you have questions about processing the forms or are unsure about whether it is wise to handle your case without a lawyer:
- Contact an attorney. The Montgomery County Bar Association has a Lawyer Referral Service. The telephone number is (301) 424-3454
- Call the Legal Forms Helpline at 1 (800) 818-9888
- Visit the walk in Montgomery County Circuit Court Family Law Self Help Center
The Family Law Self Help Center is located in the South Tower 1st floor, Rm 1500 of the Judicial Center, 50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850, and operates Monday through Friday (except Court holidays) from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Family Law Self Help Center and the Legal Forms Helpline provide services free of charge.
50 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850
Office Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM