Learn about the difference between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce.
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An absolute divorce is the final ending of a marriage. A limited divorce does not end the marriage. Instead, a limited divorce establishes certain legal responsibilities while the parties are separated.
Divorce Series: What Type of Divorce Do I Need? from the Maryland Courts
An absolute divorce actually ends the marriage. Once a decree of absolute divorce is entered, the parties are free to remarry. The decree of absolute divorce is a formal order issued by the court to end the divorce proceeding.
After an absolute divorce, one party can no longer inherit property from the other. Any property owned by the parties jointly as spouses automatically becomes property held in common (each owns one-half).
As part of an absolute divorce, a spouse may ask the court to allow the spouse to resume their former name. Additionally, the parties may ask the court to consider and decide issues of alimony (payment from one former spouse to the other), custody and child support, and the division of any marital property (property acquired during the marriage).
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 7-103
A limited divorce is a legal action where a couple’s separation is supervised by the court. A limited divorce does not end the marriage. 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.
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. You are not required to get a limited divorce before you can get an absolute divorce.
When the court orders a limited divorce, it means that the divorce is not permanent. Some people call this legal separation. The limited divorce may be indefinite (last for an unspecified length of time) or for a limited time only. Additionally, both spouses may jointly ask the court to revoke the limited divorce at any time. When granting the limited divorce, the court determines if either party is at fault.
The limited divorce can make temporary decisions about:
- Child custody;
- Child support;
- Health insurance coverage; and
- The division and use of personal and real property
During a limited divorce, the parties live apart, but remain legally married. This means:
- Neither spouse may remarry.
- There is a documented date of separation between the spouses.
- If the spouses have sexual relations with each other after that date, it will restart the time requirements for getting an absolute divorce based on the ground of separation.
- Sexual relations between one spouse and a third person during a limited divorce is considered adultery.
- If one spouse dies while a limited divorce is in place, the other spouse may still inherit property.
- Unless the divorce decree says otherwise, 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.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 7-102
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