Separation and divorce in Maryland can be difficult and confusing due to the potential for heightened emotions and life-changing consequences but also because of the legal processes involved. I want to share some brief insights into separation and divorce law and legal process in Maryland. To discuss your particular case, contact The Burch Law Firm, LLC for a free initial consultation. Attorney Larry Burch has over 20 years of experience representing clients in marital separation and divorce cases in Maryland.
Divorce Options in Maryland:
There are two types of divorce in Maryland: (1) Absolute Divorce and (2) Limited Divorce. Maryland law requires the parties to have separated for either six months or a year (in most cases) before the court will entertain a Complaint about Absolute Divorce unless a party can show adultery or cruelty. If you have not been separated long enough for an Absolute Divorce (and have no other grounds), then a Limited Divorce allows you to seek help from the Court in the interim.
In a Limited Divorce, the Judge or Family Law Magistrate in Maryland can award a party custody and visitation, child support, temporary alimony (called “pendente lite” alimony), use of the marital home and other property, as well as legal fees. However, in a Limited Divorce in Maryland, the parties remain legally married to each other. The court may not divide the marital property until the final (or Absolute) Divorce.
The grounds for a Limited Divorce in Maryland are as follows:
Separation: for less than one year; and
Desertion: for less than one year.
To file for a Limited Divorce in Maryland, you must be separated from your spouse, however, there is no specific period of separation required. Unlike other states, if you are still living together, you are not considered separated from your spouse.
An Absolute Divorce in Maryland is the final dissolution of a marriage. In an Absolute Divorce, the Judge or Family Law Magistrate in Maryland can award custody and visitation, child support, rehabilitative or indefinite alimony, use of the marital home and other marital property (for up to 3 years after the date of divorce if there is a minor child living in the house), as well as legal fees and costs. The court will also divide the marital property following an Absolute Divorce.
There are several grounds for an Absolute Divorce, however, Maryland law also provides spouses the option of pursuing a no-fault divorce. To pursue an Absolute Divorce in Maryland, a spouse must show that any one of the following has occurred:
Adultery: allows you to file for divorce immediately (without any period of separation);
Cruelty or Excessively Vicious Conduct: also allows you to file for divorce immediately;
One-Year Separation: requires 12 months of continuous separation (without cohabitation or sexual relations);
Six Months Separation: requires six months of separation and the parties must have a signed separation agreement resolving all issues and no minor children; and
Mutual Separation: the parties may file for divorce without any separation period; if: (1) there are no minor children, (2) there is a separation agreement resolving all issues, and (3) both parties must appear at the final divorce hearing.
See Maryland Code, Family Law Article 7-103.
What is “Separated” in Maryland?
To be considered “separated,” you must be able to swear (truthfully) that you and your spouse have not had sexual relations with each other or have “cohabitated” with each other during the separation. Co-habitation usually means spending the night under the same roof, even if you slept in separate rooms. Therefore, having sexual relations with your spouse or spending just one night in the same house (even in separate room) is generally considered cohabitating and may end the separation forcing you to begin the separation all over.
Marital Separation Agreements:
A Marital Separation Agreement (MSA) is an excellent way to avoid the stress and expense of a contested litigation in Maryland. An Agreement also allows married couples to decide the issues involved in their separation (rather than having a Judge or Magistrate impose a ruling). It is important to note, however, that a Marital Separation Agreement is a binding contract in Maryland that may forever affect your rights. When the parties are awarded an uncontested divorce in Maryland, the Marital Separation Agreement is usually incorporated into the Judgment of Divorce (and becomes part of the Court Order).
Before you begin discussing a Marital Separation Agreement with your spouse, you should consult with an experienced Family Law Attorney in Maryland to discuss your rights and responsibilities (before you make any promises or waive any rights).
Attorney Larry Burch, managing partner of The Burch Law Firm, LLC, has over 25 years of experience representing clients through separations and divorces, and can confidently handle your case from start to finish. As a former Navy JAG Attorney, he has unique experience dealing with military families as well as their civilian counterparts. With a central office in Greenbelt and a satellite office in Bethesda (both near their respective metro stations), The Burch Law Firm is conveniently located to serve clients state-wide, and especially those living in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. His areas of expertise include:
Separations and Divorces for Civilians and Military Families
Child Support and Custody
Contact The Burch Law Firm, LLC at (301) 474-4468 or online at www.theburchlawfirmllc.com for a free consultation!