How To File For Divorce in Maryland
Getting a divorce can be emotionally charged and confusing, especially when the divorce process in your state is somewhat unique. In this article, we will explain how to file a divorce application in Maryland and what requirements are needed to end your marriage.
Types of Divorce in Maryland
There are two kinds of divorce available in the state of Maryland: the “absolute divorce” and the “limited divorce.” The absolute divorce is essentially what most people think is a divorce and what most states call a “divorce.” It ends the marriage and sets out the division of property, custody of children, support, and other issues. The parties are free to remarry upon getting an absolute divorce.
The limited divorce is more akin to a “legal separation” in other states. The marriage is not legally over, but many of the financial and family law issues are settled by the court. A limited divorce makes sense for spouses who require time to be eligible for an absolute divorce but need those family law matters addressed in the meantime. Alternatively, there may be religious or financial reasons a couple may not want to stay legally married, even if they want to end their romantic and spousal relationship.
The parties in a limited divorce:
- no longer reside together;
- may not yet remarry; and
- are given a formal date of separation.
A limited divorce can be decreed indefinitely or for a limited time and can be revoked by the court if the parties jointly agree.
Maryland’s divorce process not only has two types of divorce but allows fault and no-fault divorces.
Grounds for Divorce
The grounds for absolute and limited divorces are set out in the statute. If your grounds for divorce occurred in the state of Maryland, there is no requirement for residency. If they occurred out of state, at least one of the spouses must have resided in Maryland for a period of at least 60 days before the spouses are allowed to file for divorce in Maryland.
An absolute divorce may be sought on the basis of:
- desertion (for 12+ consecutive months, intended to be final, and where reconciliation is not expected);
- criminal conviction (occurring prior to divorce application and where there is a 3+ year jail sentence, 12 months of which has been served);
- separation (at least 12 consecutive months);
- insanity (if the spouse has been confined to a mental institution at least 3 years prior to the divorce application, and per two psychiatric physicians, there is no cure or recovery);
- cruelty (towards a spouse or their minor child and reconciliation is not expected);
- excessively vicious conduct (towards a spouse or their minor child and reconciliation is not expected); and/or
- mutual consent (if there is a written settlement agreement resolving the financial and marital issues that is acceptable to the court).
In some cases where adultery is presented as the ground for divorce, the spouse accused of infidelity may make a cross-allegation that the other spouse committed adultery as well. This is also known as “recrimination.” The court may also consider whether the adultery was condoned or forgiven.
A limited divorce may be sought on the basis of:
- cruelty (towards a spouse or their minor child);
- vicious conduct (towards a spouse or their minor child);
- desertion; and/or
A limited divorce may also be granted if the parties have applied for an absolute divorce but are not yet entitled to an absolute divorce (and meet the requirements for a limited divorce).
A Note About Separation
Parties seeking an absolute divorce on the ground of separation should be aware that if they have sexual relations with each other after the documented date of separation, the “clock” on the 12-month separation period starts again.
Steps in the Maryland Divorce Process
There are a number of important procedural steps in a divorce case.
Initiating/Filing the Claim
The divorce process is started when the initiating spouse (the “Petitioner”) completes and files the Complaint for Absolute Divorce, or the Complaint for Limited Divorce, as well as a Civil Domestic Information Report. The Complaint forms set out the basic information about the parties, marriage, property, and children, as well as the grounds for seeking the divorce. The Civil Domestic Information Report sets out administrative case requirements and what specific marital issues need to be addressed.
Additional forms will be needed, such as:
- the signed Marital Settlement Agreement form where divorce is being sought on the ground of mutual consent (or any agreements the spouses have on particular issues, such as division of property or parenting plans. if the spouses haven’t agreed on everything);
- a Financial Statement if alimony or child support is being sought; and
- the relevant Child Support Guidelines Worksheet if child support is being sought.
Depending on the issues in the case, there may be other forms required. The court clerk’s office at the court where the petitioner will be filing the application paperwork will be able to advise which forms need to be completed and included. Of course, if you retain a divorce lawyer, they will know what will need to be filed in your particular case.
When the forms are filed, a filing fee will have to be paid. In some financial circumstances, it is possible to get a fee waiver. The court clerk will then issue a Writ of Summons.
Serving the Documents to the Other Spouse
The application and supporting documents, along with the Writ of Summons, must then be delivered — “served” — to the other spouse. Service can be done by a sheriff, process server, or through certified mail with a return receipt. If the defendant spouse is in jail, in the military, or can’t be found, there are other ways to effect service. Proof of service must then be filed with the court.
Answering the Claim
If the defendant spouse is served in Maryland, they will have 30 days to file an Answer to the divorce complaint. If served outside of Maryland, they have 60 days. If served out of the U.S., 90 days. If there is mutual consent to the divorce, the defendant agrees to the statements set out in the application, as well as the relief being sought. If the defendant wants to contest the divorce and/or claim different grounds for divorce, they need to complete and file a Counter-Complaint for Absolute Divorce or a Counter-Complaint for Limited Divorce.
It is important to respond to the divorce complaint within the time limits. Failure to do so will allow the petitioner to request a default divorce, which is when the court grants what the petitioner has asked for since there has been no opposition.
Court Hearings and Procedures
If the parties mutually consent to the absolute divorce, a hearing will be scheduled by the court, either on its own or after the parties file a Request for Hearing, depending on the county. At this hearing, proof of Maryland residency will be provided to the magistrate, who may ask the parties questions. They will also review the marital settlement agreement to make sure requirements are met, the provisions make sense, and the proper considerations have been made. If there are no problems and neither spouse has requested to have the settlement agreement set aside, it will be approved and the court will issue the decree of absolute divorce.
If the divorce is contested, there may be hearings on a variety of issues, such as temporary spousal and/or child support. There will also be a discovery process, where information in the form of testimony and/or documentation is gathered and exchanged by the parties. Third parties may be involved in the discovery process as well. For property and financial issues, there may be appraisers on both sides. For child custody issues, there may be evidence from custody evaluators and other experts.
The court may order parties to attend mediation to work out certain issues, especially if they involve the children, if appropriate. Ultimately, any disputes that remain unsettled will go to trial, where each side will call witnesses and enter evidence supporting their case, and a judge will make the final decision.
Why You Should Have a Divorce Lawyer
Divorces in Maryland can get complicated. Divorce lawyers can offer valuable assistance at all stages of the process.
- Assessing the Situation. Before initiating a divorce, it is helpful to know what to expect, not only from the process itself but what outcomes are possible and/or likely. Dissolving a marriage is a big decision, especially if there are children of the marriage. Divorce lawyers can advise clients on support entitlements — likely custody and visitation arrangements — and what will be needed to present a strong case. In terms of property division, Maryland is about equitable — not equal — distribution. This means that instead of simply dividing matrimonial property “50-50,” the court will consider a number of factors (such as length of marriage, contributions of each spouse, and other details) and distribute fairly based on those circumstances. Lawyers can provide insight into how the parties will fare in the eyes of the court.
- Initiating or Responding to the Divorce Complaint. Although it is possible for laypeople to fill in the forms themselves, having a divorce lawyer who knows your story can ensure that the complaint is easy to understand and clearly sets out what is being sought and the reasons why. Improperly completed or incomplete paperwork can result in delays because amendments may be required. For example, if the petitioner adds information, the defendant will be given time to respond. Not having all the required documents may result in adjournments to allow the parties to obtain what the court needs to see.
- Settlement Negotiations. Coming to a reasonable, mutual agreement on issues can be advantageous. Going to trial means that the judge will decide what happens based on the evidence called and legal arguments. There is no guarantee that both parties will be happy with the judge’s decision. If the parties are able to resolve issues, courts tend to prefer to grant what the parties have agreed to, provided that it is reasonable and all the proper considerations have been made. Negotiations tend to run more smoothly when the parties have lawyers, especially if the breakup has been acrimonious or extremely emotional. Lawyers look out for their clients’ rights, so any agreement will likely benefit both parties.
- Discovery. Discovery can be a long, drawn-out process in some cases. Whether the contentious issues relate to finances and property assessment or the welfare of the children, there could be years of documentation to sift through and any number of witnesses who can provide relevant information. A divorce lawyer will know what their client has and must produce, what evidence the client has to gather, what information is needed from the other side, and what potential witnesses should be summoned. Where witnesses are examined, especially if they are contentious, lawyers can help elicit the information needed, reveal biases, or get the witnesses to commit to certain statements.
- Court Hearings. Any appearance before a court involves procedures unfamiliar to most laypeople. For example, there are rules of evidence that dictate what evidence is reliable and can be properly considered by a court in making its decision. Every motion — or request made of the court — is initiated by paperwork, answered by more paperwork, and follows deadlines. Lawyers know how best to present the facts and legal arguments for maximum impact and benefit to their clients. During a trial, there are rules around how witnesses are examined and cross-examined. Additionally, the best examinations and cross-examinations are conducted strategically to bolster or undermine the credibility of witnesses and affect how much weight is given to different testimonies. Legal arguments must also be backed up by legal research, especially in the form of prior court cases.
Find a Maryland Lawyer to Protect Your Legal Rights and Entitlements
Richard Lebovitz is a third-generation lawyer with expertise and experience in all family law matters. He is passionate about getting the best outcome for his clients. As a father, he knows that this includes not only money matters but also continued healthy relationships with children. Don’t navigate your Maryland divorce alone. Contact Lebovitz Law today and receive a free initial consultation.