What to Know about Divorce in Maryland
Whatever the reason, deciding to seek a divorce from your spouse is a difficult decision to process. Perhaps not at first as some situations can be “no-brainer” ones and the decision to leave your spouse was an easy one to make. But once realizing the road ahead that you must walk in order to achieve your goal, things can start to feel heavy and daunting. That’s why it’s important to have an excellent legal team to walk beside you- one that will explain every step along the way, help you over the roadblocks and get you to the end and to the resolution you seek.
We find that many clients are often unaware of how the divorce process typically unfolds in Maryland, so we’ve put together this blog post that summarizes, from a high-level perspective, what you might expect.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
Divorces in Maryland fall under one of two categories: contested, meaning you must provide proof for your grounds of divorce; and uncontested, which usually follows a mutual decision to end the marriage and/or a voluntary period of separation.
- Contested Divorce: These cases typically stem from a complaint filed by one party (the plaintiff) that alleges grounds for a divorce from the other party (the defendant). More on what these grounds could be in the next section.
- Uncontested Divorce (a.k.a. Mutual Consent): In these cases, assessing fault is not necessary. Here’s where we see the term “irreconcilable differences” a lot when tabloids report on celebrity divorces. You simply need to state that circumstances have arisen that mean the two of you are no longer compatible as husband and wife and there is no intent or hope for reconciling the marriage. In these cases, both parties must sign a Marital Settlement Agreement and file the Agreement with the complaint for divorce. This means that the agreement must be completed and signed before you can file for divorce.
Grounds for a Divorce
All divorces require proof, or grounds, and you should have your grounds established before filing your complaint in court. It’s important to remember that anything you do after filing your complaint in court could become grounds for the defending party. The following are some examples of grounds for divorce in Maryland:
- Mutual Consent
- One year mutual and voluntary separation, living separately and apart for 12 consecutive months (living in the same house, but in different bedrooms does not count)
- Two year involuntary separation, living separately and apart without interruption
- Desertion for one full year
- Conviction of felony or misdemeanor with incarceration of at least one year under a sentence of 3+ years
- Insanity requiring a mental health institution stay of at least 3 years
- Cruel or excessively vicious conduct
There are a couple of defenses to these grounds, but because the courts do not want to force people to stay married when they are incompatible, they are hard to prove:
- Condonation: choosing to forgive your spouse even though you know they did wrong
- Insanity: defense will have to prove their client was insane when he/she committed the grounds for divorce
Absolute vs. Limited Divorce
In Maryland, couples looking to end their marriage actually have two paths they can take- one toward an absolute divorce and one toward a limited divorce (which is actually kind of a misnomer, more on that in a minute…)
- Absolute Divorce: this is more commonly what people have in mind when they think the word “divorce”. An absolute divorce allows a couple to terminate their marriage completely, move forward with their lives and remarry if they choose. In some cases, a 12-month separation period is required in order to obtain an absolute divorce; however, that separation period can be waived if the grounds for divorce are severe enough (i.e. adultery, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct).
- Limited Divorce: this is not technically a “divorce”, rather a court-ordered legal separation. A limited divorce does not terminate the marriage or allow either party to move into a new relationship or remarry. If you do, you could be accused of adultery by the defending party, which will give them grounds for an absolute divorce. Tread carefully over these 12 months…The point of a limited divorce often gets lost. If we’re not divorced and I can’t move on with my life, why are we being forced into this situation? Often, it’s in an effort to give the divorcing couple the opportunity to hash out terms for child support, alimony and division of marital assets.
In the case of an uncontested divorce, by mutual consent, a separation agreement will need to be drawn up, all points agreed to, and signed by each party. This is often the part where some couple struggle and hit snags in the proceedings. Some things you’ll typically addressed within a separation agreement include:
- Who will pay court costs and attorney fees?
- Division of property or properties (i.e. the house, rental properties, etc.)
- Division of personal property (i.e. the car(s), appliances, even furniture)
- Retirement funds
- Who will pay off the debts and how?
- How much and for how long will alimony be paid?
- Custody arrangements, child support and visitation rights
- Life & health insurance policies (Who is insured? Who is the beneficiary? Will one spouse continue to be covered under the other party’s plan after the divorce?)
A note about your Will
If you have one—we know someone if you don’t—you should revise your Will immediately or soon after your divorce is finalized. Even though you are no longer married (or even if you’re separated), if your spouse is still listed as your beneficiary, he/she will still inherit from you if something were to happen to you. As well, if you have given your spouse a power of attorney, cancel that as soon as possible and pick a new agent. Until you do these things, your ex will remain in control of your property, your finances, and potentially your medical care.
We’re here to help!
Maybe the decision to leave your spouse was an easy one; or maybe it was the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make. Regardless of your situation, we’re here to help. We can help you answer any questions you may have about getting the process started, filing your complaint, filling out paperwork and will be by your side every step of the way thereafter. The Family Law attorneys at Ferrante, Dill & Hisle, LLC have decades of combined experience in handling divorces of all shapes and sizes. When you’re ready, give us a call today at (410) 535-6100 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.