In 2021, there were 1.6 divorces per 1,000 people in Maryland. Divorces are hard in the best of circumstances, but Maryland divorce law has often contributed to the difficulties of divorcing. However, recent legislative changes will make it much simpler to get divorced in Maryland starting this October. Specifically, Maryland couples will be able to divorce without a physical separation – that is, needing to reside in separate households – or going through a waiting period due to the new law that alters the grounds for divorce. A Maryland divorce attorney can help you understand all the new changes in the state’s divorce laws.
Current Maryland Divorce Laws
Currently, the state of Maryland recognizes limited and absolute divorce. Effective October 1, 2023, Maryland will recognize only absolute divorce.
Historically, the State of Maryland has never had laws regarding “legal separation,” though it allows for so-called “limited divorce,” which is essentially the same thing. In a limited divorce, a couple may live separately and remain married. It is a common option for couples who are unsure whether they truly want to split up or whose religious beliefs do not allow for an “absolute” divorce, which is the official legal end of a marriage. Couples seeking a limited divorce can address issues like child custody and support, alimony, and who keeps the marital home. However, there is no provision for the distribution of assets or properties.
New Grounds for Divorce in Maryland
The new bill repeals the concept of limited divorce entirely. Starting October 1, 2023, there will no longer be limited divorce in Maryland. However, the bill neither includes any provisions for legal separation nor does it provide provisions for what happens to couples who already have a limited divorce in place.
The legislation eliminates the following grounds for divorce:
- Desertion, if it lasted for 12 months and there is no possibility of reconciliation
- Criminal convictions leading to jail/prison time
- 12-month separation
- Insanity meeting the legal standard set forth in the law
- Cruelty to a spouse or child
- Other extreme and vicious treatment
Spouses will be qualified to divorce if they have lived separate lives, even if under the same roof, for at least 6 months or have cited “irreconcilable differences” as a reason to end the marriage. Importantly, “separate and apart” does not necessarily mean separate homes. Leading independent and separate lives and not engaging in physical intimacy are certain qualifiers to being deemed to “lead separate lives.” Other factors the court may look at to determine if the couple is leading separate lives are:
- Are the couple’s finances intertwined?
- Does the couple take vacations together?
- Does the couple take meals together?
- Is the couple still sharing a bedroom?
- Are the couple’s friends and families aware that the relationship has changed?
In certain cases, a court also could grant a divorce for “the medically proven permanent incapacity of a spouse to make decisions.”
For those who wished there was a faster, easier way to obtain a divorce, but for whom it was difficult or impossible due to the state’s 12-month separation requirement, the new law is a welcome change. It may also benefit victims of domestic abuse and violence. The new change may also result in less conflict among couples who no longer need to stay together. The new law’s stipulation that people don’t have to live physically separate from their spouse should help people who may struggle to afford a home on their own or who wish to stay in the same residence as their children.
Finally, while the grounds for divorce will change, the new law does not prevent a person from asserting them in their court filings as factors for decisions on alimony, custody, or asset division. For example, a divorcing party whose spouse engaged in adultery during the marriage may cite those grounds, and adultery can still be a factor in whether one person is granted alimony. Similarly, a person whose spouse is serving time in prison can still cite that as a factor for child custody.
Questions Still to be Answered
It will be some time before we fully understand all the nuances of the new law. For example, the legislation does not define “irreconcilable differences.” In general, this means that the couple is unable to resolve their differences in order to continue on with a serviceable marriage, but it is likely that there will be case law developed to give more structure to the term “irreconcilable differences.”
Similarly, how will the courts deal with situations where the couple filed for limited divorce before the October 1, 2023, effective date?
And how will the court define a “permanent incapacity to make decisions?”
These and other questions are not addressed in the legislation and remain to be resolved.
Contact the Law Offices of Brandon Bernstein Today For a Free Initial Consultation
The changes to Maryland’s divorce laws streamline the process and are expected to take the high level of emotion out of many divorces since the parties do not need to offer specific grounds such as adultery or cruelty. Still, although Maryland’s new divorce legislation simplifies a number of things, divorce can be complex. You may have a lot to lose if child custody is an issue. If you have significant property and/or retirement assets, or if alimony needs resolution, the issues may not be simple and straightforward. Similarly, there may be issues regarding protective orders or an uncooperative spouse. Consider having a Maryland divorce attorney represent you if your case has complicated issues or if your spouse has a lawyer.
If you are considering filing for a divorce, contact Brandon Bernstein, LLC today. We’re tactful, thoughtful, and dedicated, and we work hard to ensure the best results for you. Our number one priority is offering successful solutions to your problems at rates you can afford.