How to File Divorce in Maryland

How to File Divorce in Maryland

America’s national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, was written about an American flag that survived a night of bombardment at Ft. McHenry in Maryland during the War of 1812.  If your marriage is not surviving in Maryland, there are some things you need to know about Maryland’s divorce laws.

Residency requirements

You cannot file for divorce in Maryland until at least one of the spouses has lived in the state for six months.  

Grounds for divorce

A divorce, which Maryland law calls an “absolute divorce” can be granted on either fault or no-fault grounds.  Fault grounds mean one spouse did something wrong. The fault grounds in Maryland law include adultery, desertion, conviction of a serious crime, insanity, cruelty, and vicious conduct.  The reality is that most couples will not bother with this type of dispute. A fault divorce is mostly a relic of the times before no-fault divorce was legalized.

That said, Maryland’s no-fault divorce process is more cumbersome than many other states.  A court can grant a no-fault divorce when the parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for 12 months before filing for divorce.  That can be a very long time, especially for a couple without a lot of money that is trying to afford two separate households and divorce lawyers.

In order to make things faster for easy divorces, Maryland recently added a “mutual consent” ground for divorce.  This just says that if a couple has no children and can agree to the division of their property and alimony issues then they can appear before a judge and be granted a divorce almost immediately.  As a practical matter, a huge number of divorces are actually granted this way. Many divorcing couples have very little to fight over, and it is usually in both spouses’ best interests to come to an agreement instead of spending legal fees to fight in court.  

Limited divorce

Maryland has a somewhat unique “limited divorce” law.  Though the word “divorce” is used, it really more like a legal separation.  To get a limited divorce one spouse must prove cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, desertion, or separation.  The limited divorce can be permanent or for a limited amount of time.

In reality, a “limited divorce” is most often used as a way to enforce a legal separation while the couple completes the 12-month separation period needed to get a no-fault divorce.  A court can issue orders to temporarily clear up issues like child custody, child support, or division of some property, like a home or a car.

Maryland makes DIY possible

The courts in Maryland have adopted forms that can make it possible to complete a divorce without hiring a lawyer.  In fact, they have created a whole system that will ask you a series of questions and then point you to the correct form.  Maryland’s free form-finder system is on par with what some online legal service providers will do for a fee. Divorce should not be taken lightly, though.  Anyone with substantial assets should probably get a lawyer involved to make sure they are treated fairly.

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