Overview of Divorce in Maryland
Marriage is a civil contract between two people or parties under Maryland law. Divorce is the ending of a marriage ordered by a court. A court may issue an order or “decree” of divorce to end the marriage if there are certain grounds for divorce
In Maryland, there are two types of divorce: absolute divorce and limited divorce. Limited divorce is sometimes referred to as a legal separation. Both types are discussed below.
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 automatically inherit property from the other. Any property owned by them jointly in the marriage automatically becomes property held in common. This means that each party is a half owner of the property.
In addition, the absolute divorce decree may provide for:
- Custody of children: Custody may be awarded to only one parent (who is said to have “sole custody”). Or, custody may be awarded to both parents (who then have “joint” custody) and share the responsibility for raising and caring for the children.
- Payment of Alimony: Alimony is a financial or monetary obligation or payment by one party to the other party. Alimony continues after the divorce is final for whatever time period the court orders. The court may require one party to pay alimony to the other party based on financial need.
- Payment of child support: If the divorced couple have children, then one party may be required to pay the other party child support when there is a divorce.
- How property is divided between the parties: Jointly owned property may have to be sold and the proceeds of the sale divided between the parties. For example, a car that is titled in both spouses’ names may have to be sold and the proceeds of the sale divided between the parties. Or, the parties may decide, with the court’s approval, that the car should belong to one of the parties. If that happens, then the title to the car will have to be transferred to the one party. Or another example is a joint bank account. The court, with input from the parties, will decide how the money in the joint bank account is to be divided.
Some common grounds for divorce include but are not limited to the following:
- Adultery (engaging in sexual intercourse with someone other than the married spouse).
- Desertion, under certain circumstances.
- A 12-month separation, when the two persons from the marriage have lived separate and apart for 12 months without interruption before the filing for divorce. During this 12-month period, they cannot have sexual relations with each other.
- Cruel treatment against a spouse or a minor child of the spouse.
Also, a spouse may ask the court to change his or her name back to the name used before the marriage. These requests are usually granted.
A limited divorce is a legal action where a married couple is separated. That separation is supervised by the court. A limited divorce is generally used by people who:
- do not yet have grounds for absolute divorce;
- need financial relief; and
- are not able to settle their differences privately.
When the court orders a limited divorce, it means that the divorce is not permanent. A limited divorce is sometimes referred to as a legal separation.
During a limited divorce, the parties live apart, but they remain legally married. Although they are still married, neither party has the right to have sexual relations with the other. Also, in a limited divorce, the parties may not remarry. If a party in a limited divorce has sexual relations with another person during a limited divorce, that party is considered to have committed adultery.
In a limited divorce, the court can determine which party, if either, is at fault. The court may grant support to one spouse based on need. A limited divorce does not necessarily terminate the property claims, although it may decide some of those issues. The limited divorce can resolve questions of:
- child custody;
- child support;
- spousal support;
- health insurance coverage;
- the division of property; and
- use and possession of property.
A limited divorce also documents the date of separation.
If spousal support is not required, and there is no property to divide, there may be 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 spouses (for example, a house owned as tenants by the entireties) will stay the same during a limited divorce.
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 requirement just as you would for absolute divorce. Maryland courts may grant a limited divorce even if you are seeking an absolute divorce. The courts may grant a limited divorce permanently or for a limited time. Also, the court may revoke a limited divorce at any time, if the parties jointly request this. In such a case, the parties would once again be legally married.
Read the law: Md Code Family Law Title 7
For other for information on divorce and family law in Maryland:
Maryland Family Law, 4th ed. John F. Fader, II and Richard J. Gilbert. Lexis (Bender), 2006.
Maryland Divorce & Separation Law, 9th ed. MICPEL, 2009.
Maryland Family Law Forms. Baltimore MD: MSBA, 2011.
Maryland Family and Juvenile Law: Practice Manual and Forms. Natalie H. Rees. Data Trace Publishing, 2003.