In its 2021 survey, the CDC reported a divorce rate of 1.6 per 1,000 people residing in Maryland, ranking the state as one with the lowest divorce rates in the country. This can be attributed to the state's religious history as a refuge for Anglo-Catholics who fled persecution in England. This Catholic presence still exists, and as of 2014, the state’s adherents of Catholicism have made up about 24.9% of Maryland’s total population, many of whom view divorce as something negative.
There are many reasons spouses might not desire a divorce. Some choose to keep their marriage intact to abide by their religious beliefs, while others want the financial benefits only available to married couples, such as pensions, Social Security, and family health plans. Whether for religious or financial reasons, it is easier for spouses to remain legally married in many circumstances.
The Maryland Legislature has recently signed a new law, which went into effect on October 1, 2023. This law repeals the entire section of the provision that allows a spouse to obtain a limited divorce and most grounds for absolute divorce in the state. Prior to the new legislation, the state recognized two types of divorce: (1) absolute and (2) limited.
Absolute divorce legally ended the marriage, while limited divorce did not. The former also enabled couples to settle issues, including the distribution or termination of properties, and remarry. On the other hand, the latter only allowed spouses to ask the court to address matters related to child custody, support, and alimony. Hence, limited divorce provided an option for religious couples to separate while not technically ending their marriage.
However, under the new law, the court can now authorize an absolute divorce based on the grounds of a six-month separation. Spouses can also permanently dissolve their marriage based on irreconcilable differences, allowing the courts to expedite the divorce process.
Despite spouses’ best efforts, many marriages may end in divorce. As such, this article aims to be a helpful companion for couples in the Old Line State going through the divorce process. It will explain the key steps, relevant laws, legal issues that arise during and after, and resources for people with financial challenges.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Maryland
If anyone is seeking to end their marriage, knowing your legal options is key. This section explains the different types of divorce available for people in Maryland.
The court may grant an annulment declaring a marriage invalid, i.e., that the marriage never existed, if it was void or voidable. Either spouse or a third party may take action to declare the marriage void.
A marriage is considered void if, at the time of the ceremony:
Either party was legally married to someone else.
The parties are related by birth or within impermissible degrees, such as parents, children, siblings, etc.
Either party was legally insane or mentally incompetent to enter the marriage contract.
A marriage is voidable if, at the time of the ceremony:
Either spouse was under 18, except when the underage party was at least 16 with parental consent or when they had parental consent and a physician’s certification of pregnancy.
Either party was physically incapable of having intercourse.
Consent was given by fraud, duress, or force.
Either party lacked the understanding to consent.
The marriage ceremony was performed by someone without legal authority.
A voidable marriage is valid until the court declares otherwise. Only the victimized party may challenge the validity of the marriage. It cannot be annulled if parties continue to live together after the reason for the marriage being voidable does not exist anymore.
A petitioner must seek annulment in the state where the parties live. They must file the action within a reasonable time after the grounds are known to them.
As mentioned previously, before the new legislation, Maryland recognized both absolute and limited divorce. Although the state does not recognize legal separation, it previously allowed a similar alternative called limited divorce, wherein spouses live apart but remain legally married.
Absolute divorce dissolves the marriage. Once a decree is entered, ex-spouses are free to remarry. They cannot inherit property from each other. Any assets they own together as a couple become common property. Additionally, they may obtain sole or joint custody of the children. The judgment may also provide alimony and child support and allow a party to resume their birth name.
Is Maryland a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Before the passage of the new law, Maryland had been one of the few states that did not offer a no-fault ground for divorce. Now, it joins 39 other states that allow spouses to end their marriage based on irreconcilable differences. This means the court will not consider any marital misconduct by a party to grant a divorce.
Prior to the new legislation, a party must first prove at least one allegation to obtain an absolute divorce. A couple could obtain an absolute divorce under the following grounds:
Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor with incarceration.
Voluntary 12-month separation.
Cruelty of treatment.
Excessively vicious conduct toward a spouse and/or minor child.
The abovementioned grounds have been repealed under the new law and replaced with the following:
Irreconcilable differences based on reasons stated by the complainant.
Permanent legal incapacity of a party in making decisions.
With this shift, couples may now obtain a divorce with fewer conflicts and lower costs by not having to put the blame on the other party or wait 12 months to do so. Although the original grounds have been repealed, they may still be considered factors when deciding child custody, alimony, and other divorce-related issues.
Even if spouses are living under the same roof or if their separation is in accordance with a court order, the new law specifies that they must have lived apart for six months without interruption before filing for divorce. It does not change the existing provision allowing the court to grant an absolute divorce based on the grounds of mutual consent.
Under mutual consent, the court may grant a divorce if the couple has signed a written marital settlement agreement that resolves issues related to the division of marital property, child and spousal support, and custody of minor or dependent children.
How to File for Divorce in Maryland
To obtain a divorce in Maryland, one of the spouses must be a state resident for at least six months before filing. However, if the grounds occurred in Maryland, there is no residency requirement.
1: Complete a Complaint Form and Other Needed Documents
To initiate a divorce case, a spouse must complete a Complaint for Absolute Divorce (CC-DR-020).
If the other party wants to ask the court for relief different from what the petitioner requested, they must complete a Counter-Claim for Absolute Divorce (CC-DR-094).
Other required forms are:
Civil Domestic Case Information Report (CC-DCM-001), for all divorce cases.
Parenting Plan, in cases involving custody of a minor child.
Financial Statement (CC-DR-030), for cases seeking child support if the parents’ combined monthly income is $15,000 or less.
Financial Statement (CC-DR-031), for cases seeking alimony, property distribution, or child support if the parents’ combined monthly income is over $15,000.
Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Marital Property (CC-DR-033), if either party is seeking division or transfer of marital property or monetary award.
Marital Settlement Agreement (CC-DR-116), if the basis of complaint for divorce is mutual consent.
Division of Vital Records Report of Absolute Divorce or Annulment of Marriage.
If they cannot agree on a comprehensive parenting plan, they must file a Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time (CC-DR-110). Each spouse must file the financial statement form. They must also submit the Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property (CC-DR-033) form 10 days before their trial or by any other date set by the court.
They may get the Division of Vital Records Report of Absolute Divorce or Annulment of Marriage form from the court clerk and submit it before the end of the hearing. If not, the court will mail their divorce decree.
For all counties except Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, CC-DR-033, financial statements, and other forms must be accompanied by a Notice Regarding Restricted Information Pursuant to Rule 20-201.1 (MDJ-008).
2: File the Completed Forms
The petitioner or responding party must ask the court about filing fees and payment methods. If they cannot afford the fees, they may apply for a waiver by completing the Request for Waiver of Prepaid Costs (CC-DC-089) form. They must file the originals at the clerk’s office and make two copies of everything, one for a spouse’s records and another to serve the other party. If they are representing themselves without a lawyer, they may hand the completed paperwork in person, mail it directly to the clerk’s office, or submit it by e-filing.
3: Serve the Documents to the Other Party
After the clerk sends a Writ of Summons, a spouse must arrange for a third party to serve a copy of it, the complaint, and other papers filed with the court within 60 days of the date on the writ. Service may be done by the following:
Personally delivering the documents. If service is made at the other party’s home, documents may be handed to the spouse or to a person over 18 years old who also lives in the home.
Requesting the Sheriff’s Office in the county where the other party lives.
Paying for a private process server.
Having a friend, family member, or competent co-resident who is over 18 and not a party to the case to serve the documents to the other spouse’s home.
Having an adult perform the service by certified mail requesting “restricted delivery - show to whom, date, address of delivery.” The other party must sign the green card, which a spouse must file with the court.
The server must complete the Affidavit of Service to prove the other party was served. The spouse must file the affidavit with the court. They may use CC-DR-056 if the service was by certified mail or CC-DR-055 if it was by private process. If the sheriff served the other party, the Sheriff’s Office must file the affidavit. If a spouse cannot serve the other party because they cannot locate them or they are evading service, they would need to seek legal advice.
4: Wait for the Other Spouse to File an Answer or Counterclaim
If the other party was served in Maryland, they have 30 days after the service to respond. If they were served in another state, they have 60 days to respond.
If they do not respond in the time allowed, the petitioner may file a Request for Order of Default (CC-DR-054).
How Property Is Divided in a Maryland Divorce
Spouses may agree on dividing their property without the court’s assistance. If they have no agreement, the division of property is governed by the Marital Property Act. This means that all marital properties are subject to equitable distribution.
Under the principle of equitable distribution, the court first determines which properties belong to the couple as marital property and their value. The general rule is that all properties obtained during the marriage are considered marital properties, regardless of who paid for them. An exception is property received as a gift or inheritance from a third party. Marital property includes bank accounts, cars, furniture, pensions and retirement assets, and real estate. Additionally, any interest in real estate is presumed to be marital property, regardless of whether it was acquired before the marriage or from a third party.
The law also provides that any asset obtained before marriage remains the spouse's property. If the marriage is dissolved, a party must prove that the property belongs to them alone. A couple may acquire joint ownership of properties brought to the marriage by either spouse through agreements or title transfers.
Non-marital property is excluded from the debts of either party. They alone can dispose of their own property. Additionally, neither party is liable for contracts made by the other in their name nor for the debts a spouse may have acquired before marriage.
The court does not award any set percentage to each spouse. It determines which spouse is entitled to a share of the valued marital property by considering the following factors:
Monetary and non-monetary contributions of each party to the family’s well-being.
The value of all property interests of each spouse.
Economic circumstances of each spouse at the time of the award.
Circumstances and facts that contributed to the spouses’ estrangement.
Duration of marriage.
Age and physical and mental condition of each party.
How and when specific property was acquired, including the effort expended by each spouse in accumulating it.
Any award or other provision the court has made regarding family-use property or home, as well as alimony.
Other factors that the court deems necessary to consider for a fair and equitable monetary award.
Contribution of either party to the acquisition of the property.
The court can order a transfer of ownership of property titled in one spouse’s name to the other party. The couple may agree and transfer property, such as pensions, retirement accounts, profit shares, and real properties (if they are their primary residence or family-use properties), on their own through a marital agreement. The court can authorize a spouse to purchase the other party’s interest in a real property.
The court also has the authority to award exclusive use and possession of family-use properties to the spouse with custody of their minor children. These properties include the family home, appliances, cars, and furniture. In making the award, the court considers the following factors:
The best interests of the minor child.
The respective interest of each spouse in continuing to use the family-use property or any portion of it.
The respective interest of each party in continuing to use the family home or part of it to produce income;
Whether a party would suffer undue hardship by awarding possession and use of the family home or family-use property.
The award can last up to three years from the date of the decree.
Maryland Divorce FAQs
Whether the spouses saw it coming, initiated it themselves, or were blindsided, obtaining a divorce is never easy. This section aims to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the divorce process in Maryland.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Maryland
If anyone is struggling with the reality of divorce, help is available. To manage this chapter in a couple’s life, spouses will need legal representation to protect themselves, their rights, and their assets. This section describes three nonprofit organizations that help people facing divorce and dealing with child custody, support, and other family law-related issues.
The Southern Maryland Center for Family Advocacy
The Center offers legal advice and representation, information and referral, lay advocacy, and other services to domestic violence survivors. Assistance is delivered both independently and in collaboration with the judicial system, nonprofit agencies, concerned citizens, elected officials and community leaders, and businesses in Southern Maryland.
The Center provides access to the professional services of advocates and attorneys, regardless of one’s age, gender, marital or economic status, race, or sexual orientation. For legal assistance, contact your county’s advocates through the following numbers: (240) 925-8550 (St. Mary's County), (240) 925-8549 (Calvert County), or (240) 925-8535 (Charles County).
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service
MVLS, composed of volunteer attorneys and tax professionals, directly helps people facing legal challenges through pro bono representation, community engagement, and legislative and administrative advocacy. It handles different case types in family law, such as divorce and custody.
MVLS also operates the weekly Washington County Courthouse Clinic to provide brief legal advice to those facing family law issues. Additionally, the nonprofit organization recruits attorneys to accept contested family law cases for full representation through Judicare. To obtain legal assistance, one may complete the form in their online intake system.
Women Law Center of Maryland, Inc.
WLC of Maryland helps protect people’s rights by offering free legal services. It handles different family law case types, including divorce, child custody and support, and visitation. It provides attorneys to represent clients in contested custody cases through Judicare. The center also helps victims of domestic violence deal with protective order hearings when conflicts arise through the CLAS project. For legal assistance, call the family law hotline, 1-800-845-8550, Monday to Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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