Getting a divorce is never an enjoyable or simple process. The rules of court can be complicated and the process can be incredibly emotionally taxing. We’ll attempt here to simply and clearly give you an overview of the divorce process in Maryland, which can help to make the process less confusing and intimidating. As always, please understand that this is just general information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions, you shouldn’t hesitate to call our offices to schedule a consultation.
In Maryland, there are two types of divorce: (1) limited divorce and (2) absolute divorce. Limited divorce is really not a divorce at all according to what people ordinarily think of as a divorce; it is really only a judicially-acknowledged separation. People gain a limited divorce to formalize their separation and to make some agreements regarding property distribution, child custody, and similar matters.
A limited divorce does not allow for the termination of property claims or for the parties to remarry. Limited divorce is typically used as a means for the court to issue an order separating the parties and often to make decisions regarding use of the home, property division, and custodial matters for divorcing couples who can’t reach agreement on their own. A limited divorce is not required before getting an absolute divorce.
In order for a court to grant a limited divorce, there has to be at least one of the following factors present:
1. Cruelty, either to the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party (the complaining party, called the Plaintiff, is the one who files for divorce).
2. Excessively vicious conduct, either to the complaining party or to a minor child of the complaining party.
3. Desertion, which can be actual or constructive. “Actual desertion” is when one party leaves, or forces the other party to leave, the family home. “Construction desertion” is when one party leaves because of the misconduct of the other. Desertion does not require some minimum amount of time away from the house; rather, the judge determines whether under all of the circumstances the person who has left the house has “deserted”.
4. A mutual and voluntary separation, as long as the parties are living apart without cohabitation, and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
A limited divorce may be revoked if both parties request it, and the court may order the parties to engage in mediation or counseling to seek reconciliation. If reconciliation is impossible, the parties may seek an absolute divorce.
An absolute divorce, unlike a limited divorce, is final. In Maryland, an absolute divorce may be granted based on any of the following nine grounds:
2. Desertion, so long as: (a) it has continued uninterrupted for the 12 months prior to filing; (b) the desertion is deliberate and final; and (c) there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
3. Conviction of a crime in any federal or state court, so long as prior to filing the defendant (the non-filing party) has: (a) been sentenced to at least three years in a penal institution; and (b) already served 12 months of the sentence.
4. Insanity, if the insane spouse: (a) is deemed incurable with no hope of recovery by two physicians who are competent in psychiatry; and (b) has lived in a mental hospital or similar facility for at least three years prior to the filing of divorce.
5. Cruelty, either direct at the complaining party or at a minor child of the complaining party.
6. Excessively vicious conduct, either direct at the complaining party or at a minor child of the complaining party.
7. Involuntary separation, where the parties have continuously lived separately and without cohabitation for the two years prior to filing for divorce but one of the parties does not agree that the separation was a voluntary decision by him or her.
8. Voluntary separation, so long as: (a) the parties have lived apart, continuously and without cohabitation for the 12 months prior to filing; and (b) there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
By far, the most common basis for divorce in Maryland is a separation. Whether a one-year mutual and voluntary separation or a two-year separation (even if one of the spouses has not voluntarily separated), it is the path to divorce that involves the least amount of blame (and therefore reduces the acrimony).