Divorce in Maryland: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you are considering divorce in Maryland, the best place to start is by familiarizing yourself with the state’s requirements before beginning the process of filing. This useful guide covers the basic requirements for divorcing in Maryland to give you a solid foundation and a better understanding, but it is not a substitute for mediation or legal counsel. Also, and particular for the state of Maryland, you should be aware that the state’s legislative body has the ability to revise domestic relations laws each year, and often does so. Any major changes to Maryland divorce laws are published between January and April so make sure you stay up to date. Here we go!
What are the grounds for Divorce in Maryland?
In Maryland, grounds for divorce are numerous. Additionally, the state has the ability to declare that a marriage is invalid, void, or voidable, in which case an annulment may be granted in place of a divorce.
A void marriage is one in which:
- Either spouse was legally married to another party at the time of the ceremony, i.e. bigamy.
- Either party was mentally incompetent or legally insane and therefore unable to enter a lawful marriage contract at the time of the ceremony.
- The spouses are related by impermissible degrees, either by birth or by marriage, i.e. incest.
A voidable marriage is one in which:
- Either spouse was physically incapable of consummating the marriage via sexual intercourse at the time of the ceremony.
- Consent to marry was procured by force, fraud, or duress.
- The marriage ceremony was performed by someone who lacked the legal authority to perform it.
- Either party lacked the understanding to consent to marry.
- Either party was under the age of 18 at the time of the ceremony, with the following exceptions:
- The underage party was at least age 16 and had parental consent to marry.
- The underage party had parental consent and a doctor’s certification of pregnancy at the time of the ceremony.
In a “voidable marriage,” only the victimized party can challenge the validity, and the marriage is considered valid until the court declares invalidity. If an annulment is allowed, it can take place in Maryland even if the invalid, void or voidable marriage happened elsewhere.
Even though an annulment means that no legal marriage happened, the court will act to protect individual property rights. Additionally, parties seeking an annulment in Maryland should understand that any children produced via the invalid union must be provided with child support as determined by the court, and those children are not considered to be illegitimate. The judge may also award alimony (spousal support).
Grounds for Divorce
In valid marriages, parties must provide grounds for divorce. Maryland courts do not accept simple accusations.
If spouses are seeking a limited divorce (also known as legal separation), they may use the following grounds:
- Cruelty or abuse
- Harsh behavior either toward the spouse or toward a minor child
- Voluntary desertion, no time period specified.
- Constructive desertion, i.e. one party’s misconduct causes the other party to leave the marital home.
- Mutual separation, i.e. irreconcilable differences.
Spouses seeking absolute divorce in Maryland (i.e., a divorce that can be finalized or a complete dissolution of marriage) may use the following grounds:
- Mutual consent, i.e. irreconcilable differences, if:
- The parties may not have any minor children together
- The parties must submit a written settlement agreement that resolves issues surrounding alimony and property division
- Neither party may file a pleading to set the settlement agreement aside before the divorce hearing
- Both parties must appear before the court during the Absolute Divorce Hearing
- Deliberate desertion (at least one year)
- Constructive desertion, i.e. one party’s misconduct causes the other party to leave the marital home.
- Insanity with at least 3 years confinement to a mental institution, hospital, or similar institution prior to the date of filing with the following conditions:
- Maryland divorce law requires testimony that the insanity is incurable from at least two physicians competent in psychiatry; there must be no hope of recovery.
- At least one spouse must be a resident of Maryland for 2 years before filing.
- A felony or misdemeanor criminal conviction resulting in a sentence of at least 3 years, of which 12 months have been served.
- Cruelty or abuse
- Harsh behavior either toward the spouse or toward a minor child.
How to File for Divorce in Maryland
There are a few different methods for carrying out a Maryland divorce.
The first method involves mediation and is the least complicated as well as the least expensive option. Before filing for divorce, couples can opt to work with a mediator, who can aid in the process of conflict resolution. Once the settlement terms are reached, the mediator helps the spouses complete a Separation Agreement. After the agreement has been drawn up, each party must have the Separation Agreement reviewed by an independent attorney. Maryland’s divorce laws prohibit couples from using the same attorney to review the Separation Agreement before submitting it to the court.
The terms outlined in the Separation Agreement are meant to bridge the gap between marriage and cohabitation and the time when a divorce is finalized, or the parties opt to resolve their differences by revoking the agreement in writing. The Separation Agreement is not a substitute for divorce.
The Separation Agreement should contain the following information:
- Details concerning the support, care, and custody of any children.
- The amount of spousal support to be provided.
- Details concerning the continuance of health insurance benefits if they are currently provided by one spouse for the other.
- Division of property and responsibility for debt during the separation period.
Under Maryland divorce law, parties may not engage in sexual relations with others while separated, as this legally constitutes adultery. If one of the spouses violates this law or any of the terms of the Separation Agreement, the other has the right to file a lawsuit for breach of contract.
After the one-year separation has passed (if applicable) all parties seeking an annulment, limited divorce (legal separation) or absolute divorce should use the following procedures to file for divorce.
In order to begin a legal action, you start by filing a complaint with the court. The complaint will include:
- Date and location of marriage
- Names and ages of children
- Length of residence in Maryland
- Whether any other legal actions exist between the parties
- Grounds for divorce
- A specific amount of relief, i.e. child support and/or alimony being requested: a statement of income and expenses must accompany the filing when relief is requested.
Next, you will need to serve the other party with a copy of the complaint and a summons.
- The sheriff, a private process server, or certified mail may be used.
- The defendant (the spouse who did not file) has 30 days to respond if he or she lives in Maryland, and longer if residing outside the state.
- The response may admit or deny the stated grounds for divorce.
- The defendant may file a counter-complaint with his or her grounds for divorce, along with a statement requesting relief if applicable.
If the defendant fails to file a response, then the filing party may request a default judgment.
In case a default judgment is requested, the filing party must also provide a military affidavit stating that the responding party (i.e. defendant) is not in the military.
Completing An Uncontested Divorce in Maryland
If the divorce is uncontested and both parties agree to the terms, then the case will be heard by a Master-Examiner, who will determine whether divorce should be granted. The defendant will be given an opportunity to appear but is not required to do so. The plaintiff (filing party) will need to testify, along with any witnesses who can corroborate evidence in assigning grounds for divorce.
- If the Master-Examiner determines that the divorce should be granted, then a recommendation will be given to a judge, who will review the case and enter the final judgment. This process usually takes several weeks.
Completing A Contested Divorce in Maryland
If the divorce is contested, then the case goes to trial. Many months of discovery may take place depending on the circumstances.
Prior to the trial, both parties can expect to attend a scheduling/settlement conference. In some cases, multiple conferences may take place so that issues can be resolved. The court may also require parties to attend mediation to reduce the burden of trial.
If no agreement can be reached, the divorce will go to trial. During the trial, both spouses will present testimony, and both spouses can expect to be cross-examined by the other side. Witness statements will be heard as well, if applicable.
After all the evidence has been presented, the judge will determine whether the divorce will be granted to the plaintiff. Terms concerning contested issues, including alimony, child custody and/or visitation, and the division of marital property, will be determined as well.
It is worth noting that contested divorces can take months to even get to trial and even longer to proceed after the trial begins.
Once a judgment is entered, a 30-day appeal period goes into effect. The losing party then has the opportunity to enter an appeal if he or she wishes to do so.
How long does a Maryland divorce take to finalize?
There are a few different answers to this question, depending on the details of your case. While we recommend consulting an attorney before moving forward, here are some basics about how long it takes to get a divorce in Maryland.
Whatever the reason for divorce, residency must be established prior to the judge hearing the case. At least one party must have resided in Maryland for six months prior to the divorce filing.
- In some cases, the state of Maryland requires a one-year separation period before allowing spouses to file for absolute divorce. The one-year separation allows one party to file, even if the other does not want or consent to the divorce.
- If the parties are able to meet the requirements for a mutual consent divorce, they are exempt from the one-year separation/waiting period.
- If the grounds for divorce is adultery, and adultery can be proven, then the court may opt to grant an absolute divorce immediately. There is no need to prove that sexual intercourse occurred when using adultery as grounds for divorce in Maryland. Instead, the filing party must prove the following:
- Adulterous Disposition: The offending spouse was affectionate toward another, i.e. public displays of affection were witnessed.
- Adulterous Opportunity: Proof that the spouse was at a location where adultery could have taken place, i.e. witness statement that the spouse was seen entering another party’s residence at night and leaving in the morning.
- Evidence may also be admissible: If the filing party has proof of adultery in the form of text messages, emails, voicemail messages, photos, etc. then it is often admitted by the court.
- If the offending spouse has a child with another person during the course of the marriage, the child’s DNA is admissible evidence.
In uncontested divorces, the final judgment may be granted within several weeks of filing, depending on Master Examiner and judicial caseloads as well as circumstances of the individual case.
In contested divorces, the final judgment often takes months or even longer than a year to obtain, depending on unique circumstances, court schedules, and other unique factors.
In all Maryland divorce cases, the divorce judgment is final when the judge provides his or her signature. This may or may not happen on the date of the trial.
Cost of Divorce in Maryland
In Maryland, the cost of divorce varies from one jurisdiction to the next, and from one case to the next. Initial filing fees for civil actions are $165, however additional costs may apply. Amicable, mediated divorces cost least as they incur the least amount of court resources, and as the amount of legal aid required is often minimal. Many divorce lawyers offer free consultations, making it easier to determine how much individuals can expect to spend on their divorces.
Divorce Lawyers in Maryland
While individuals may opt to represent themselves when divorce proceedings are simple and straightforward, Maryland lawyers offer expertise in navigating the state’s laws. When matters are complicated, it is best to obtain counsel. If a mistake is made during filing or hearing procedures, you may be required to start over, meaning that the divorce will take longer to complete, and costs are almost certain to increase.
Checklist of resources you may need to divorce in Maryland
Because divorces are challenging under the best of circumstances, trained professionals dedicate their careers to guiding their clients efficiently through procedures, particularly in complicated cases. You may choose to build your Maryland divorce team using the following individuals or websites:
|Divorced Professionals||National Association of Divorced Professionals (NAPD)||TheNADP.com|
|Divorce Coach||Certified Divorced Coaches (CDC)||CertifiedDivorceCoach.com|
|Financial Planners||Association of Divorce Financial Planners(ADFP)||DivorceAndFinance.org|
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Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. Consult with an attorney for more information regarding your individual situation.