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Apr 30, 2024

Separation Issues: The Implications of Dating While Separated in Maryland

Apr 30, 2024 - Family Law by |

Couples who plan to divorce have many questions about the interim period of separation before their divorce is finalized. How do you legally separate from your spouse? Is it possible to date during that period? How involved will the judge be in your affairs during this period of time? What if there are minor children in the family? These and many other questions will likely arise as you contemplate a separation from your spouse. During this interim period, it’s important to consult with a Bethesda divorce attorney to help you adjust accordingly. 

How Do You Legally Separate from Your Spouse in Maryland?

There is no such thing as a “legal separation” in Maryland. If you and your spouse live separate lives for at least six months, you can file for divorce based on the ground (legal reason) of a “6-month separation.” This is true even if you continue to live under the same roof, so long as you do not engage in marital relations. However, physical separation can make it easier to establish the date of separation.

You should note, however, that dating during the separation can have potential legal implications, particularly in the context of divorce proceedings. Maryland is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that neither party needs to prove marital misconduct to obtain a divorce. However, certain behaviors during separation may impact issues like alimony, property division, and child custody.

Here are some factors that may have an impact on the divorce if you choose to date during your separation:

  • Alimony: Dating during separation may influence a court’s decision on alimony. If the court believes that the spouse seeking alimony committed adultery during the separation, it could affect the amount and duration of alimony awarded.
  • Property Division: Maryland is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally dollar for dollar. While dating itself may not directly impact property division, if the court finds that marital funds were used to support a new relationship during the separation, it could be a factor in your divorce settlement.
  • Child Custody: The court’s primary consideration in child custody matters is the best interests of the child. Dating may be considered if it affects the children’s well-being or if the new relationship introduces instability into the child’s life.
  • Emotional Impact: Even if there are no direct legal consequences, dating during separation can have emotional ramifications for both spouses and any children involved. It may complicate the divorce process and affect negotiations.

It’s essential to note that each case stands on its own facts and merits, and the outcome can depend on various factors. Consulting with a Bethesda divorce attorney can provide you with guidance based on your specific circumstances. Additionally, if you are unsure about the legal consequences, it may be wise to refrain from dating until your divorce is finalized.

How Involved Will the Judge Be During Your Separation?

Unless there are minors under 18, Maryland law does not control who gets to stay in the house. Thus, a judge will not likely be involved at this time. If a couple without minor children cannot work out who will stay in the home, a judge might order the sale of the property. It’s best to try to avoid that outcome because court-ordered sales of real estate are rarely beneficial for the property owners. If the house must be sold, you should have a realtor sell it so that you can get the best price. However, a judge does have the power to make certain decisions if you have minor children. In that circumstance, a judge has the authority to award one of the spouses “use and possession” of the house. This order simplifies the question of who moves out in a separation. The purpose of this action is to help spouses regroup after the divorce, get back on their feet, and allow the children to remain in a familiar place during these often turbulent times.

If the court orders exclusive use and possession of the family home to you, that means you can live in the family home with your minor children. A court may also order the other spouse to pay the mortgage on the house. 

Under Maryland law, a use and possession order can last for a maximum of three years after the date of divorce. It’s also important to remember that these orders aren’t always granted to mothers. Whoever is the primary custodian of the children—whether that is the mother or the father—will most likely be awarded the home.

Lawyers often negotiate use and possession as part of a marital separation agreement. Negotiations may include whether or not there will be a use and possession order and, if so, its duration.

In addition to the family home, a judge may issue a “family use personal property” order. This order essentially says that whoever has custody of the children and receives the order may keep anything that is owned by one or both spouses. However, the court cannot grant the use and possession of the property if the item was acquired before the marriage. These items may include furniture, cars, appliances, and other property. 

Most lawyers try to keep their clients out of the courtroom, so use and possession orders are often negotiated.

Protect Your Interests In Your Divorce with the Help of an Experienced Bethesda Divorce Attorney

While you can handle your own divorce in Maryland, the process can be complex and requires you to take many steps, including preparing paperwork and meeting with the judge. That said, it’s particularly important to understand the period of separation before your divorce and what you should and should not do. Protect your interests with the help of an experienced Bethesda divorce attorney. Please call 240-395-1418 or TELL US HOW WE CAN REACH YOU ONLINE today.