Categories :: Family Law > Divorce

Overview of Divorce in Maryland

Under Maryland law, marriage is a civil contract between two people.  A divorce is a legal ending of a marriage, which is ordered by a court.

In Maryland, there are two types of divorce: absolute divorce and limited divorce. An absolute divorce is a permanent termination of the marriage. If a court grants an absolute divorce, the final order of the divorce is set forth in a “divorce decree” or “decree.”

A limited divorce is a legal separation, and does not end the marriage.

In order to obtain an absolute divorce or limited divorce, a married couple must meet statutory residency requirements. If the cause of action (reason for the divorce) did not occur in Maryland, the residency requirement is 6 months.  If the cause of action is based on insanity, there is a two-year residency requirement.  However, if both spouses are residents of Maryland and the cause of action occurred in Maryland, there is no residency requirement.

Both types of divorce are discussed below. 

Absolute Divorce

An “absolute divorce” permanently dissolves the marriage.

When filing for an absolute divorce, a person must set forth grounds, or reasons for the divorce. Those grounds include:

  • One-year separation: The person and his or her spouse have been living separately and apart from one another for a continuous period of one year, and have not had sexual relations.
  • Mutual consent: The parties do not have any minor children in common and they execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement signed by both parties resolving all issues.
  • Adultery: Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person that is not his or her spouse.
  • Desertion: Under certain circumstances, an unjustified abandonment with intention of terminating the marriage.
  • Cruel treatment: Cruel or violent treatment of a spouse or a minor child of the spouse.
  • Insanity: A licensed medical doctor has determined that the spouse is legally insane, and the insane spouse has been kept in a mental institution or hospital for at least three (3) years prior to filing for a divorce.
  • Incarceration: A spouse has been convicted of a crime, and has been sentenced to jail for a period of three (3) or more years. At the time of filing, the spouse must have served at least 12 months of the sentence.

Once a decree of absolute divorce is entered, either person can remarry. Also, any jointly-owned property is divided and distributed in accordance with an agreement (such as a pre-nuptial agreement or other written contract), or with the Marital Property Act. After property has been distributed, neither person can claim ownership of property belonging to the other.

An absolute divorce decree may provide for:

  • Payment of alimony: Alimony is a financial or monetary obligation or payment by one party to the other party. Alimony may be temporary, rehabilitative (awarded for a specific period of time), or indefinite. An award of indefinite alimony is rare.
  • Custody of children: Custody may be awarded to only one parent (who is said to have “sole custody”). Alternatively, custody may be awarded to both parents (who then have “joint custody") and share the responsibility for raising and caring for the children. Custody of a child may be legal (one parent has the right to make major decisions regarding a minor child) or physical (making a home for the child and making day-today decisions during the time the child lives with the parent).
  • Payment of child support: If the divorced couple has children, one party may be required to pay the other party child support. Regardless, both parents are legally required to support their minor children (i.e., unemancipated and 17 years of age or younger [or 18 years of age if the child is still in high school]).
  • Division of property: If the individuals seeking a divorce cannot agree on how property belonging to both of them should be divided, that property may be sold, and the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties. Examples of property that may belong to both individuals include a car, house, or bank accounts.
  • Use of last name: 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.

Limited Divorce

A limited divorce (or legal separation), is a legal action where a married couple is separated. A limited divorce is not a permanent termination of the marriage. Instead, the couple remains legally married while living separate and apart from one another. During a limited divorce, neither spouse may remarry, or have sexual relations with another person. If one spouse has sexual relations with another person, that spouse has committed adultery.

A limited divorce is not required before obtaining an absolute divorce. In some circumstances, a court may grant a limited divorce even if an absolute divorce is sought.

A limited divorce is generally used by people who (1) do not yet have grounds for absolute divorce, (2) need financial relief, and (3) are not able to settle their differences privately.

 When filing for a limited divorce, a person must set forth grounds, or reasons for the limited divorce. Those grounds include:

  • Separation: The person and his or her spouse have been living separate and apart from one another without cohabitation.
  • Desertion: Under certain circumstances, an unjustified abandonment with intention of terminating the marriage.
  • Cruel treatment and excessively vicious conduct: Cruel or violent treatment of a spouse or a minor child of the spouse.

A decree of limited divorce may establish any of the following:

  • child custody;
  • child support;
  • spousal support; and
  • use and possession of property (if applicable).

Read the law: Md Code Family Law Title 7

For other for information on divorce and family law in Maryland:

Fader's Maryland Family Law, § 4-4, Cynthia Callahan and Thomas C. Ries (6th ed. 2016).

Maryland Family Law Forms. Baltimore MD: MSBA, 2011.


Edited by Samantha Jones, Esq.

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