The Maryland Court of Special Appeals published an(other) important reminder about counter-complaints and ad damnum clauses this month. In Huntley v. Huntley, available here, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint asking for, among other things, a monetary award, alimony, a portion of the marital share of the Defendant’s retirement benefits, and attorney’s fees. The Defendant filed an Answer, but did not file a Counter-Complaint and did not request any affirmative relief beyond the granting of an Absolute Divorce and the denial of Plaintiff’s request for alimony.
After trial, the Circuit Court of Harford County granted the Plaintiff (among other things) half the marital portion of the Defendant’s retirement benefits. The Circuit Court denied Defendant’s request at trial for a portion of Plaintiff’s retirement benefits. The Court reasoned that the only retirement benefits before it were the Defendant’s, as only the Plaintiff had requested distribution of the other party’s retirement benefits. Neither party requested a distribution of Plaintiff’s retirement benefits.
The Court of Special Appeals affirmed, explaining the importance of notice and ad damnum clauses, and writing in part, “Lydia’s request for a portion of the marital share of Charles’s retirement benefits did not put Lydia on notice that Charles would request a portion of the marital share of Lydia’s retirement benefits.” Slip Op., page 9.
As family law practitioners, we understand that the decision of whether to file a Counter-Complaint, and decisions about what to request in pleadings, are important strategic decisions. Today’s lesson: be careful what you do not ask for.