Basics of Maryland Divorce Law
Absolute vs. Limited Divorce
A divorce is the legal ending of a marriage. In Maryland there are two different types of divorce: A limited divorce (like a legal separation) and an absolute divorce. There are some differences in the grounds for limited and absolute divorce, so it is best to talk to speak with a lawyer about the best approach for your situation.
The Maryland Family Law Article §7-102 and §7-103 outline the two types of divorce. A limited divorce does not end the marriage but can address financial matters and other issues (such as child related issues) before the parties have adequate grounds to be divorced absolute. An absolute divorce fully ends the marriage and resolves all issues including property and alimony. Once a party is divorced absolute, they are eligible to remarry and are looked at as being single.
Grounds for Absolute Divorce in Maryland §7–103
(2) Desertion, if:
- the desertion has continued for 12 months without interruption;
- the desertion is deliberate and final; and
- there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation;
(3) Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor in any state or in any court of the United States if before the filing of the application for divorce the defendant has:
- been sentenced to serve at least 3 years in a penal institution; and
- served 12 months of the sentence;
(4) 12–month Separation, when the parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for 12 months without interruption;
(5) Insanity if:
- the insane spouse has been institutionalized for at least 3 years;
- at least 2 psychiatrists testify that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery; and
- 1 of the parties has been a resident of this State for at least 2 years
(6) Cruelty of treatment toward the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party, if there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation;
(7) Excessively vicious conduct toward the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party, if there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation; or
(8) mutual consent, if:
- the parties do not have any minor children in common;
- the parties execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement signed by both parties that resolves all issues relating to:
- alimony; and
- the distribution of property
- neither party files a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing required under the Maryland Rules; and
- both parties appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.
Grounds for Limited Divorce in Maryland §7–102
If a party files for absolute divorce but does not meet the requirements, a limited divorce can be granted if one of those grounds are met.
Under Maryland law, annulments are granted by the court under narrow circumstances. An annulment is a dissolution of marriage on grounds that it is either void or voidable.
A “void” marriage was illegal to begin with, and occurs if;
- Either party was already married to someone else
- The parties are impermissibly related by birth or marriage
- Either party was legally insane or incompetent at the time of marriage
A “voidable” marriage can be declared invalid by a court if a party challenges its validity. A marriage is voidable where;
- Either party was underage
- Consent was obtained through fraud, duress, or force
- A party is unable to have sexual intercourse
- Either party lacked the understanding required to consent
Importance of Separation Agreements
A Separation Agreement is required in order to obtain an absolute or limited divorce. For either type, separation agreements (sometimes called a marital settlement agreement or property settlement agreement) lay out how the couple’s property and assets are to be divided, and whether a party will receive alimony, and address continuation of health insurance. If children are involved, the separation agreement must address child support, custody, and include a detailed parenting plan.
The court will evaluate the separation agreement before it grants a divorce and incorporates the agreement into the divorce decree. If the couple entered into a prenuptial (or postnuptial) agreement, terms of their separation agreement will likely be affected.
It is best to consult your own attorney regarding any separation agreement, to ensure your rights are protected and the agreement meets all legal requirements. If your former spouse violates any terms of your separation agreement or the court’s order, your attorney can also you help you enforce it in court.
Mediation is a process conducted by a neutral third party, called a mediator. The mediator’s goal is to help the parties develop an agreement on any issues in dispute. Often this means division of property and assets, custody, and creating a parenting plan. In some situations, this can be a viable alternative to litigation and be quicker and less expensive than litigation.
Contact an Experienced Maryland Divorce Law Attorney
If you are considering divorce, are separated, or your spouse has filed for divorce, it is important to select an attorney who has experience with divorce cases. For years, Bethany G. Shechtel, Esquire has been by her clients’ side, guiding them through the divorce process and protecting their rights. To discuss your situation, contact BGS Law, LLC today.