It will be much simpler to get divorced in Maryland starting this October.
Maryland couples will be able to divorce without a physical separation (i.e. needing to reside in separate households) or waiting period thanks to a new law hitting the books that alters the grounds for divorce.
Currently, in Maryland, there are two types of divorce: (1) limited, and (2) absolute. Effective October 1, 2023, Maryland is doing away with limited divorce and will only have absolute divorce.
What are the New Grounds for Divorce?
In Maryland, a ground is required in order to get divorced. The new grounds for divorce are: (1) “6-month separation, if the parties have lived separate and apart for 6 months without interruption before the filing of the application for divorce” (and parties can be considered to live separate and apart even if they live under the same roof); and (2) “irreconcilable differences based on the reasons stated by the complainant for the permanent termination of the marriage.” The statute does not elaborate on what would be considered “irreconcilable differences.”
In addition, Maryland is keeping its existing ground for divorce of “mutual consent,” which requires parties to have a signed written settlement agreement resolving all issues relating to alimony, distribution of property, custody and child support, submit their signed agreement with child support guidelines, neither party files to set aside the agreement, and the court believes the agreement is in the best interests of any minor or dependent children.
What is unusual about Maryland’s new grounds for divorce is that for the first time none of Maryland’s grounds are fault-based. Currently, the majority of the existing grounds for absolute divorce are fault based, and include:
- Desertion, if it has lasted for 12 months without interruption, is deliberate and final, and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation
- Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, with a sentence of at least 3 years or an indeterminate sentence and served 12 years
- A 12-month separation requiring living separate and apart without cohabitation and without interruption
- Insanity if confined in a mental institution, hospital or other institution for at least 3 years, 2 physicians competent in psychiatry testify the insanity is incurable or no hope of discovery, and 1 has been a resident for at least 2 years
- Cruelty of treatment with no hope or reconciliation
- Excessively vicious conduct
- Mutual consent (as described above)
Eliminating fault as a grounds for divorce does not mean that fault will not continue to play a factor in divorce. The Court still is required to consider the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties in determining alimony and the equitable distribution of marital property.
However, once the law takes effect in October, people (especially those of limited means) will find it easier to divorce without first having to live separate and apart, in separate residences, for an entire year.