Divorce in Maryland

Divorce is the legal process of ending a marriage. It can be a complex and emotionally difficult process, particularly when there are disputes about property, support and child custody to be resolved. In this article, we will provide an overview of obtaining an Absolute Divorce in the state of Maryland.

Changes to Maryland Divorce Law

On October 1, 2023, new legislation went into effect that meant significant changes to Maryland’s Divorce Law.  The new law has eliminated Limited Divorce (similar toa “legal separation” in other jurisdictions) and some of the fault grounds for Absolute Divorce that were previously available, including adultery, desertion and cruelty.

What is an Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

An Absolute Divorce is permanent and is a complete termination of the marriage.  An Absolute Divorce ends your marriage and settles all of the legal issues related to the marriage and divorce.

What are the Grounds for Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

To obtain a divorce in Maryland, you have to prove to the court that you have a valid, legal reason for divorce.  These valid, legal reasons are called the grounds for divorce

The Grounds for Absolute Divorce in Maryland are:

  1. 6-month separation, if the parties have lived separate and apart for 6 months without interruption before the filing of the application for divorce;
  2. Irreconcilable Differences based on the reasons stated by the complainant for the permanent termination of the marriage; or
  3. Mutual Consent if the parties have executed a proper written settlement agreement. 

What is a 6-month Separation in Maryland?

For a divorce based on a 6-month separation, you must show that you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least six months before filing a complaint.   You can still live under the same roof but must pursue separate lives. The separation can also be based on a court order, such as a protective order.

What are Irreconcilable Differences?

The term “Irreconcilable Differences” has not been fully defined in Maryland since the law went into effect on October 1, 2023.  However, Maryland’s approach is expected to be similar to other jurisdictions that recognize irreconcilable differences as a ground for divorce.  In general, “irreconcilable differences” are the reasons that a marriage has broken down and cannot be fixed.  As you can imagine, there can be any number of valid reasons why a marriage might break down.  The party filing for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences must state the reasons in their complaint. Presumably, the reasons must show that the marriage cannot be saved.  The definition of irreconcilable differences in Maryland will become clearer as the Maryland courts address these kinds of cases. 

What is Mutual Consent?

A Mutual Consent Divorce can be granted when the parties have reached an agreement that resolves all of the legal issues related to the divorce and has executed a proper written settlement agreement. Your agreement must address all issues of alimony, the distribution of property and debt, and, if you have children, child custody, visitation and support.

What are the Residency Requirements for an Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

To file for Divorce in Maryland, at least one party must be a resident of Maryland.  If the grounds for divorce occurred in Maryland, there is no specific time requirement.  One of you simply has to reside in Maryland when you file for divorce. If the grounds for divorce happened outside of Maryland, then at least one party must reside in Maryland for at least six months before filing for divorce.

What is the Divorce Process in Maryland?

To begin a divorce in Maryland, one spouse (the “plaintiff”) must file a petition for divorce with the circuit court in the county where either spouse resides. The petition must include basic information about the parties, such as their names, ages, and addresses, as well as a statement of the grounds for divorce.

After the petition is filed, it must be served on the other spouse (the “Respondent”). This can be done by having a sheriff or professional process server deliver the petition to the respondent or by having the Respondent accept service.

The most common response is an “Answer.”  If the Respondent does not agree with the reasons for the divorce or the terms of the divorce, they have the option to file an answer to the complaint. On the Answer, the Respondent can contest the grounds for divorce, terms of the divorce or raise any other issues. Usually, if the Respondent does not file an Answer, or if the parties are able to reach as settlement, the case can proceed directly to a final hearing.

If the parties have a settlement agreement, they will present their agreement to a judge at the final hearing.  The judge will review the agreement and, if satisfied, grant the divorce. The hearing is typically brief and does not require the parties to testify or present evidence.  If you reach a full agreement before filing for divorce, you and your spouse can seek a Mutual Consent Divorce. 

If the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement on all terms of the divorce, the case may go to trial. This is called a Contested Divorce.  A Contested Divorce is a longer and more formal process. A judge will hear testimony and consider evidence in order to make a final determination on the grounds and terms of the divorce.  Quite often, if the parties do not have an agreement, there will be multiple hearings before the final hearing to address issues like temporary child custody, child support or spousal support.  There may also be hearings on the temporary use of the family home or automobiles.  For these reasons, a Contested Divorce takes more time and can cost much more than a mutual consent or uncontested divorce. 

Although the divorce process can be emotional and difficult, a Maryland divorce attorney can guide you through the process as simply and painlessly as possible. Contact us or call us at 301-453-8670 to schedule an initial consultation with a Maryland divorce attorney.

Maryland divorce attorney Ryan Rennaker, Esq. handles divorce matters in Anne Arundel County and throughout the Eastern Shore, including Queen Anne’s County, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. You can contact Ryan directly at ryan@bourdontortolero.com or by phone at 301-453-8670.

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