The end of a marriage is always a difficult time on an emotional and financial level, and it also comes with the added stress of the related legal process. If you’re considering or already going through a divorce in Maryland, understanding the basics of divorce law, procedures, and filing requirements in our state can help relieve some of the anxiety and uncertainty you may be feeling. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the fundamentals when it comes to divorce in Maryland.
Two Types of Divorce
What most people think of as a divorce — that is, the permanent and complete dissolution of a marriage — is actually called an “absolute divorce” in the legal system, and it’s only one of two types of divorce that exist in Maryland.
The other type of divorce is called a “limited divorce,” and it resembles what most people would think of as a “legal separation.” During a limited divorce, the couple remains legally married while living separate and apart from one another. The couple is still considered to be in a marital relationship, and the Court will only consider issues of child custody, support, visitation, use and possession of the marital home, and the possibility of spousal support. They will not divide marital property unless there is a voluntary settlement in writing.
While most people who are seeking a divorce want an absolute divorce, there are some situations when a person might need to pursue a limited divorce. For example, a person may seek a limited divorce if they haven’t yet satisfied the grounds for an absolute divorce, but need a legal separation from their spouse for reasons related to financial status, health, personal safety, or simply feelings.
In this article, we’ll primarily discuss absolute divorce, but it’s important to understand the distinction between the two types of divorce before delving further into Maryland divorce law.
About Absolute Divorce
To file for an absolute divorce, you’ll have to set forth your grounds (reasons) for divorce in a formal legal document called a “Petition (or Complaint) for Divorce.” The following can provide valid grounds for divorce in Maryland:
- After a year of physical separation: If you have minor children and/or property issues which are not resolved during your separation, you may be granted an absolute divorce. You may obtain an Absolute Divorce through a settlement by mediation or a trial. Hearings may be held at two levels: before a Magistrate, or before a Judge if one party disagrees with the Magistrate’s findings.
- If you don’t have any minor children, and you mutually agree to submit a written settlement agreement to the court that will settle all issues related to the dissolution of your marriage: As soon as a Petition is filed and answered by the other party, and as soon as the Court can schedule you before a Magistrate, you may obtain an absolute divorce.
- Adultery: Your spouse voluntarily had sexual intercourse with someone else, it can be confirmed by a third party, and the act in question occurred, generally, prior to the separation.
- Cruel or vicious treatment: Your spouse committed serious acts of physical or mental abuse toward you or the children.
- Desertion: Your spouse abandoned you and your household with the intent of terminating the marriage. (Note that this does not include the voluntary leaving of the marital house to begin the required period of separation.)
- Incarceration: Your spouse has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail for a period of at least three years. (Your spouse must have served at least 12 months of their sentence at the time of filing).
- Insanity: A licensed medical doctor has determined that your spouse is legally insane, and they have resided in a mental health facility for at least three years prior to filing for a divorce.
Once the court enters a decree of absolute divorce, custody, visitation and child support, your marriage is dissolved and you and your spouse can remarry at will after the 30 day period of appeal is up. The court will divide up and distribute jointly-owned property and set child support, custody and visitation for minor children in accordance with Maryland law and the facts of the case. (While we’ll delve more into this topic in a future blog post, it’s important to know that Maryland property division law operates on the principle of “equitable distribution,” which is in some ways the opposite of what it sounds like — the marital property in your divorce may not be divided equally; it depends on what the court decides is fair in your case.)
You may appeal a ruling, but this is expensive and time consuming. The Order of the Court will stay in effect unless there is some material and significant change in the situation of the parties.
Related Legal Issues that Surround a Divorce
In general, there are four main legal issues that tend to provide most of the points of contention during a divorce:
- Alimony: A financial payment or obligation by one spouse to the other. Alimony can be paid temporarily or indefinitely (although indefinite alimony is very rare) and is intended to be rehabilitative in nature.
- Child custody: The court may award sole custody of the child to one parent or require the parents to share custody of the child in a joint-custody arrangement. Note that there are two types of child custody:
Legal custody is the right to make major, long-term decisions on behalf of the child, generally for major educational. medical and religious issues.
Physical custody is the right to keep the child in the home and make day-to-day decisions on their behalf.
- Child support: If you and your spouse have minor children, the court may require one of you to provide financial payments that ensure the child is cared for and enjoys a similar standard of living (to the extent possible) as they did before the divorce.
- Property division: The court will determine whether any property that either spouse owns is solely owned by one spouse (“separate property”) or jointly owned by both spouses (“marital property”). After that, the court will distribute any jointly-owned property between the spouses — either by mutual agreement or by what the court decides is a fair distribution. This includes all form of pension or retirement plans that were accumulated during the marriage.
Filing Procedures and Requirements for a Maryland Divorce
To file for an absolute divorce in Maryland, you’ll need to meet two requirements:
- Residency: At least one spouse must be a Maryland resident for at least one year prior to filing for divorce.
- Grounds: You must be able to provide grounds for the divorce ― mutual agreement for a no-fault divorce, or one of the other grounds listed above for a fault-based divorce.
Next, you’ll need to complete the following steps with help from an experienced family law attorney:
- File a Complaint for Absolute Divorce, a case information report, and a financial form, in the Circuit Court that covers your county. These documents provide the court with the key details of your case, including the names of the spouses and the grounds for divorce. Both spouses must complete financial statements that detail their assets, debts, income, and expenses.
- The court will issue a writ of summons and will serve the summons to the defendant spouse by Sheriff in your home county. There are other ways to serve a defendant, such as by process server, registered mail, restricted delivery or by a third party.
- The defendant has between 30 and 60 days to file an answer to the complaint (depending on whether they are in state or not). The defendant can also file a counter-complaint, which may detail grounds for divorce that differ from those named by the plaintiff.
Reasons to Hire an Attorney for Your Maryland Divorce
If you’re seeking a divorce, you might be tempted to handle your case on your own in order to save money. However, there are dozens of good reasons to hire an experienced family law attorney to handle your divorce case. Here are just a few of them:
- Receiving expert counsel: Your attorney will be the best source of knowledgeable and helpful advice when it comes to your case. While you can try to educate yourself using online resources and blog articles, these are static documents that can’t consider the facts of your individual case (and that includes this article!). Only an attorney can explain the law and give you expert advice through the lens of your unique circumstances and the habits of your particular court.
- Avoiding mistakes: Divorce cases are complex, and any mistake could prove very costly. While you may think you’re saving money by going it alone, it could cost you more in the end.
- Reducing stress: Divorce is stressful enough without adding the immense workload and anxiety associated with the legal casework. Hiring an attorney will allow you to attend to your family and personal life and to focus on your well-being during one of life’s most emotionally challenging experiences. It also gives you a third party who can negotiate with your spouse in a clear-headed manner when things get heated or when you need some space.
Contact Pinder Plotkin for Your Family Law Needs
If you’re dealing with a divorce or other family law matter, the legal team at Pinder Plotkin is here to help and support you. We understand that family law issues often come at difficult and unexpected times, and we treat each client with compassion and respect even as we fight aggressively to protect their rights.
If you need help with a family law matter, please contact the Parkville (410-661-9440) or Bel Air (410-893-9111) offices of Pinder Plotkin today or fill out our brief online contact form, and we’ll get in touch with you promptly.
The content provided in this website/blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.