For many years, in the State of Maryland, if a couple wanted to terminate their marriage but neither party was necessarily at fault (or neither party could prove fault), they had to first spend a year apart. There was no other way around it - absent proof of adultery, or cruelty of treatment, you'd have to wait at least a year before you could file for absolute divorce. As discussed in an earlier post, there are other grounds for divorce, but aside from adultery or cruelty of treatment, they all required a waiting period of at least one year. That is, until 2015, when the local Legislature added a new ground for mutual consent divorce in Maryland.
divorce: Mutual Consent. See Family Law Articles Section 7-103(a)(8).
Under that law, a husband and wife could agree to get a divorce without having to wait out the twelve-month separation, so long as they both appeared at the uncontested divorce hearing, and settled all matters of alimony and property (including retirement) in a properly executed settlement agreement. However, this was not an option for parties who had a minor child in common. Even if they could agree on all matters of child custody and support, mutual consent was not an option for divorcing parents of young children. They would have to wait the full year before filing for divorce.
The doctrine of mutual consent has worked so well, however, that the Maryland legislature recently voted to expand it to include divorcing couples with minor children. See Maryland Senate Bill 120, http://mgaleg.maryland.go
Many divorce cases end up settling. It is often in the best interest of the minor child to settle a divorce, rather than subjecting them to the grueling process of litigation that divorce can often entail. Now that mutual consent divorce in Maryland can be used as grounds for divorce with couples who have children, couples can come to an agreement that works for all parties (including the children), and put the nasty business of divorce behind them much quicker and easier. Divorces based on a one-year separation will become limited to those where the parties cannot agree to terms, and a trial becomes necessary.
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In order for an absolute divorce to move forward, the parties will need something called grounds for divorce. The grounds for divorce are mutual consent, twelve-month separation, adultery, desertion, cruelty or treatment, incarceration, and insanity. These will be discussed in more detail in a later blog post. Of note for today’s topic, however, is the twelve-month separation. If none of the other grounds apply, then the parties will have to live separate and apart for one full year.
For many people, this is a a simple process. Nothing needs to be filed with the court until a year has passed and both parties are ready to proceed with an absolute divorce. For some, however, it is not as easy. A year is a long time, and it is often difficult for one party to support themselves throughout that year. The parties may disagree on custody or child support through that one year, or who gets to remain in the marital home. In cases such as these, the court will need to get involved earlier than normal. If the parties do not yet have grounds for absolute divorce, but still need financial relief or are otherwise unable to resolve their matters privately, then limited divorce is an appropriate remedy. A limited divorce can establish child support and custody, spousal support (also known as alimony), and use and possession of property such as the marital home.
To ensure you are properly prepared for your mutual consent divorce in Maryland, contact us for your free 30-minute consult today!