No Fault Divorce In Maryland
In Maryland, there are two ways to obtain a divorce without a finding of fault against one of the parties. A no-fault divorce can be granted based upon a 12-month separation or by mutual consent. One advantage of a no-fault divorce is that, by taking blame off the table, it may be easier for the spouses to reach an agreement on any other issues between them such as alimony, child access, child support, and division of marital property.
With a divorce based on a 12-month separation, the person filingthe divorce complaint needs to be able to demonstrate that they have been living separate and apart continuously for more than one year prior to the filing of the complaint. The parties also must not have had sexual relations during the period of separation. Lastly, it must be alleged that there is no hope for a reconciliation. It should be noted that, even if all or part of the one-year separation was not agreed to by the other spouse, it will be sufficient basis for the court filing.
If the 12-month separation can be proven, this does not mean that the divorce case is over. A “divorce” not only encompasses the “grounds” for divorce (in this case a 12-month separation), but it also includes all other outstanding issues between the parties. For example, if the parties have children, the court will require a determination about the legal and physical custody of the children, and child support would have to be computed in accordance with the Maryland Child Support Guidelines. If there is a disparity of income between the parties, a decision would also have to be made about alimony. Any property issues would also have to be resolved. This could include real property, such as the marital home, as well as personal property, which is not only tangible personal items, but also automobiles, bank accounts, and retirement benefits.
In recognition of the fact that a one-year separation can place a significant burden on divorcing parties, the legislature in Maryland passed a law permitting a mutual consent divorce which bypasses the need for a separation. In order for a mutual consent divorce to be granted, the parties must freely and voluntarily sign a written agreement that resolves all issues relating to alimony and the division of marital property.
Further, if the parties have minor children, the agreement must detail the custody arrangement and support of the children. The court file must include a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet that provides a support amount for the children. If a written agreement is submitted, without any party filing a document contesting the agreement, the court will schedule a hearing to confirm the agreement. The purpose of the hearing will be to make sure that both parties freely and voluntarily entered into the agreement and that any part of the agreement that relates to the minor children is in fact in the best interests of the children.
In summary, a divorce based on a 12-month separation can be filed with the court even if other issues, such as child custody, have not yet been resolved. In such a circumstance, the court will usually require the parties to attend mediation to foster an agreement on any open issues. On the other hand, a mutual consent divorce can be filed at any time, but all issues between the parties must be resolved by written agreement.
If you have any questions about divorce in Maryland, feel free to contact me through the form on this website or by phoning the office at 410-777-8043.