Divorce is the ending of a marriage ordered by a court. Because marriage is considered a civil contract between the parties under Maryland law, the complete dissolution of marriage is a divorce. In Maryland, there are two types of divorce: absolute and limited. Limited divorce is sometimes referred to as a legal separation.
An absolute divorce actually dissolves the marriage. Once a decree of absolute divorce is entered, the parties are free to remarry. After an absolute divorce, one party can no longer inherit property from the other, any property owned by them jointly as husband and wife automatically becomes property held in common (each owns one-half).
In addition, the decree may provide for:
- Sole or joint custody of the children
- The terms for payment of alimony and child support, and the disposition of personal property
- An equitable distribution of all the parties’ assets, including ordering the sale of jointly held property and the dividing the proceeds
Finally, a spouse may ask the court to include an order in the divorce decree which will allow the spouse (almost always the wife) to resume his or her birth name. These requests are almost always granted.
A limited divorce is a legal action where a couple’s separation is supervised by the court. It is generally designated for individuals who do not have grounds for absolute divorce, need financial relief and are unable to settle their differences privately. When the court orders a limited divorce, it means that the divorce is not permanent. Some people call this legal separation.
Under a limited divorce, remarriage is not permitted. Limited divorce does not terminate property claims although the limited divorce may settle these claims. A limited divorce makes temporary decisions about custody, child support, alimony, use and possession of property. It also documents the date of separation.
You are not required to get a limited divorce before you can get an absolute divorce. Md. Code, Family Law § 7-103 allows a decree of divorce whether there has been a previous order of limited divorce or not.
In order to obtain a limited divorce in Maryland, you must meet residency requirements, grounds, and other legally prescribed laws just as you would in a case for absolute divorce. Maryland courts may grant a limited divorce even if you are seeking an absolute divorce. The courts may also decree these divorces permanently or for a limited time only. In addition, Maryland’s limited divorces may be revoked by the courts at any time the parties jointly apply to be discharged. In such cases, the parties would return to the state of being legally married.
A limited divorce is generally used by people who:
- do not yet have grounds for absolute divorce;
- need financial relief and
- are unable to settle their differences privately.
During a limited divorce, the parties live apart. However, they remain legally married. Although the parties are still married, neither has the right to have sexual relations with the other spouse. In addition, neither spouse may remarry, and sexual relations with another person during a limited divorce is considered adultery.
The court determines which party is at fault, if either, is at fault. The court may grant support to one spouse based on need. The limited divorce can also resolve questions of
- child custody;
- child support;
- health insurance coverage and
- division of personal and real property.
If spousal support is not required, and there is no property to divide, there is generally no need for a limited divorce.
If one spouse dies after a limited divorce the other spouse may still inherit property. Also the form of ownership for any property you own as husband and wife (for example, a house owned as tenants by the entireties) will stay the same.
Read the law: Md Code Family Law Title 7