How Long Does a Divorce Take in Maryland?
Going through a divorce can be disruptive. If you’ve found yourself wondering, “How long does a divorce take?” As you’re going through your own divorce, this post is for you. We review the divorce process from start to finish, including the typical timeline you can expect in Maryland.
You’ll also learn how partnering with Lebovitz Law LLC if you live in Towson, Maryland, may be beneficial for you. Having an experienced, trusted law firm at your side as you navigate divorce can help you complete the process as quickly as possible, with the best potential outcome for your unique case.
Understanding Maryland Divorce Laws
To answer the question “How long does it take to get a divorce?” it helps to first understand the divorce laws in your state. In Maryland, divorce can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more, depending on your situation and the laws that apply to it.
In the discussion below, we’re talking about absolute divorce, which ends your marriage and settles all property and child placement. After an absolute divorce, you are allowed to remarry. While Maryland has no such thing as a “legal separation,” it does offer an alternative to absolute divorce, known as a limited divorce. Your marriage is not ended, but you are living apart, with your finances and child custody questions decided.
First, you need to make sure you’re eligible to obtain a divorce in Maryland by satisfying the residency requirement. This means you must live in Maryland to file for divorce there. You must have lived in Maryland for at least six months prior to filing a divorce complaint if the legal reason for the divorce occurred outside the state. If you have children, the children’s home state must also have been Maryland for the last six months or more.
Maryland has two types of absolute divorce: fault and no fault. No fault grounds for divorce include:
- Separation of 12 months or more – living apart without reconciliation or sexual relations for 12 consecutive months or longer
- Mutual consent – both parties agree to the divorce, and you have an agreement that resolves all issues prior to the divorce (aka uncontested divorce)
Fault grounds for a divorce include:
- Adultery (proving actual intercourse is not required, just the disposition or opportunity for intercourse outside the marriage)
- Desertion (one party abandons the marital home for 12 months in a row)
- Violence and/or cruel treatment
- Involuntary separation [if one party does not want a divorce (contests it) and the parties have lived separately from one another for two years or more]
- Felony conviction (requires a one-year separation)
- Insanity (permanent and incurable, as diagnosed by two physicians, with the insane party having lived in a mental institution for a minimum of three years)
If you asked, “How long does it take to get a divorce if both parties agree?” and read the information above, you might decide that it’s quicker to get a fault divorce versus a no fault divorce. However, you should never pretend there are fault grounds for a divorce involved, as that is fraud and could cause much worse legal consequences for you and your partner.
Initial Steps in Filing for Divorce
Where do you start when you decide to file for a divorce? First, you’ll need to gather all the documents and information you need to proceed. In most cases, these are things like bank and brokerage account statements, retirement account statements, and documents related to major shared property, like your home or a business you own together.
You’ll want to give some thought to how you plan to divide up your marital property, who (if anyone) will remain in the home, and how you plan to divide custody of any children you share.
You next need to decide which divorce process you wish to pursue. For most folks, that’s an absolute no fault divorce. If you’re not sure how to proceed here, it’s smart to consult with a seasoned divorce attorney. You’ll want to engage legal counsel at some point during the divorce anyway, just to make sure you’re handling all the steps correctly and to protect your rights should there be any question of property or custody disputes.
In hiring a divorce lawyer, look for someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal information. You’ll be working as a team for a period of weeks or months, so you want to get along well. Ask about their experience handling cases like yours and what their track record is in court if you feel litigation is likely.
Even if you are confident you can work everything out yourselves and just present at the final divorce hearing, without a long courtroom battle, it’s wise to have an attorney look everything over just to be safe and make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Can you get a divorce without going to court for anything but your hearing? Let’s talk next about the role of dispute resolution in avoiding divorce litigation.
The Role of Mediation and Settlement Negotiations
There are several alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options available to you if you feel you would prefer to work things out with your spouse rather than going to court.
Negotiation is the most informal form of dispute resolution. You and your partner can do this on your own over a cup of coffee, or you can meet with your lawyers to guide you. In simple cases, negotiation can even be done over the phone or by email.
Collaborative divorce is like negotiation with the help of counselors, financial planners, and other professionals to assist with the many hurdles involved in dissolving a marriage. Not surprisingly, this ADR method can cost more than home negotiation, and it can add time to the divorce process depending on the needs involved.
Mediation is slightly more formal, as it engages a third party to help divorcing parties work through their various issues. If you like the idea of negotiation, mediation is similar, but the mediator can help you stay on track and move things forward if you get stuck.
Arbitration is a less formal version of divorce litigation but in front of a private judge, the arbitrator. The arbitrator has the ability to make a binding final decision if the two divorcing parties cannot come to an agreement. Arbitration is usually faster than litigation in Maryland, and it’s a good compromise for people in a high-conflict divorce who want a more private setting in which to work things out. One downside is you have to pay for the private judge, which puts arbitration out of the reach of some people.
What are the benefits of mediation and ADR choices in divorce?
- Most methods are usually less expensive than litigating a divorce.
- It’s preferable for people who don’t like conflict or would be stressed by going to court.
- You maintain more control over the details of your divorce agreement.
- Your private dealings are kept out of public records.
- Dispute resolution may be faster than waiting for a court date and possibly needing multiple court sessions to reach a decision.
- Working things out without a protracted court process is typically better for children caught in the middle of divorcing parents.
- It sets up a good foundation for co-parenting if you will be sharing custody of children in the future.
Are there some instances where mediation may not be right? Yes. If one party feels at a disadvantage in the divorce, there may be a power imbalance that makes ADR not really a neutral, impartial process the way it should be. This can happen if there is a pattern of one spouse being dominant and the other submissive or if one partner controls all the finances or has everything in their name.
Divorce Timeline and Legal Proceedings
Divorce officially begins when a complaint for absolute divorce is filed by one party. The complaint outlines why the divorce needs to happen (the grounds) and what the responsibility of the court will need to be.
Divorce papers are then served on the other spouse, who is given the opportunity to answer. They can admit or deny any allegations, say they don’t want a divorce, etc., although this will certainly prolong the divorce timeline.
A scheduling conference happens next. The divorcing parties and their lawyers meet with a magistrate, and the dates for the divorce process are set up. A scheduling order is produced with a master timeline for the divorce and milestones along the way that must be completed to stay on schedule.
A pendente lite (PL) hearing will often be scheduled as the next step. This is to resolve issues while the divorce is pending such as:
- Child custody and support
- Spousal support
- Payment of household expenses (mortgage, utilities, etc.)
- Use of motor vehicles, second homes, etc.
- Health insurance coverage
- Attorney fees and other legal expenses
The discovery process follows on the divorce timeline. Evidence, if necessary, and documents are gathered and shared, usually regarding finances, assets, and the like. At this point, advice from expert witnesses, like child psychologists, may be submitted, or professionals may be called in to assess the value of mutual property.
Settlement and status conferences usually follow. Sometimes a final attempt is made at alternative dispute resolution at this juncture.
If the case is going to court (litigation), the merits hearing is the final step in the process. This is the trial in front of the judge. In some areas, the merits hearing is split into two sections: one to resolve child custody and spousal support issues and another to determine the division of marital property.
Of course, if you do a mutual consent divorce, you can skip the trial and present your agreement to the judge. How long does it take for a judge to sign a divorce decree? If all your paperwork is in order, and if you have everything agreed upon in advance, the judge should sign your judgment of absolute divorce right away.
Factors Affecting the Duration of Divorce
How long does it take a divorce to be final? In addition to some of the concerns and stipulations for living apart listed above, these factors may also affect how long it takes to get a divorce in Maryland:
- Pulling together necessary documents, deeds, and financial statements
- Coming to an agreement on shared marital property, including the family home
- Deciding where children will live and how time will be shared
- Dividing up financial assets and accounts or shared business interests
- Calling in experts, whether for child psychology concerns or property valuation
- You and your spouse’s work schedules and available time to meet
- Court schedule once you are ready to proceed
Working with Lebovitz Law LLC
If you need a divorce attorney in Towson, Maryland, Lebovitz Law LLC is here for you. We specialize in family law, and Richard Lebovitz is a third-generation attorney and member of multiple bar associations.
The firm’s experience and resources can help put you at ease, so you can get on with your life while your divorce is underway. We recognize that each client at Lebovitz Law LLC has one-of-a-kind needs, so we always offer a personalized approach to every case. Our track record and client testimonials are a reason the firm is often recommended by friends and family.
Have questions or feel overwhelmed by the divorce process? You can schedule a consultation by calling 410-449-5365 or reaching out online at your convenience.
Streamline Your Divorce with the Right Legal Partner
It’s unavoidable that your divorce will take some time. You can speed up the process by electing to go with a mutual consent divorce, using alternative dispute resolution, and choosing a knowledgeable attorney who will customize services to your needs. For a reliable partner when navigating divorce proceedings in Maryland, Lebovitz Law LLC is the law firm you want on your side.