Dissolution of marriage in Maryland is legally referred to as Absolute Divorce.

Residency Requirement:

If the grounds for the divorce occurred outside Maryland, one of the parties must have resided in Maryland for at least one year before filing. If the grounds for divorce occurred within the state, there are no residency requirements, other than at least one spouse must live in the state of Maryland. 

However, there is an exception if the ground alleged is insanity; where one of the parties must have been a resident of Maryland for at least two years prior to filing.


Filing:

The Complaint for Absolute Divorce may be filed in a circuit court in the county where the Plaintiff (filing party) lives or where the Defendant (non-filing party) lives or works. All papers filed with the court must also be served on the Defendant.

The Defendant has 30 days to file an Answer if he/she was served in Maryland, or 60 days if she/her is served out-of-state, and 90 days if he/she is served outside the U.S. If the Defendant files an answer agreeing with the Complaint, the Plaintiff may contact the Clerk of Court in writing to request an uncontested hearing. 

If the time for filing of an Answer has passed and the Defendant has not filed an Answer, the Plaintiff may file a Request for Order of Default. If the judge signs the Order, an uncontested hearing may then be scheduled.

Spouse's Name: 

In granting a decree of absolute divorce, the court shall change the name of a party to either the name given the party at birth or any other former name the party wishes to use if either of the following is true:
 

  • The party took a new name upon marriage and no longer wishes to use it;
  • The party asks for the change of name; and
  • The purpose of the party is not illegal, fraudulent, or immoral.

Legal Grounds for Divorce

In Maryland, a court may decree an absolute divorce on the following grounds:
If a party obtained a limited divorce on the ground of desertion and at the time, the desertion did not meet the grounds for an absolute divorce, once the desertion does meet those grounds, the party may later obtain an absolute divorce on the ground of desertion.

The testimony of the party who is seeking the divorce must be corroborated (confirmed) for a court to enter a decree of divorce.

In and of itself, neither of the following is a defense to or a bar to a divorce:
 

  • An unaccepted offer of reconciliation by a spouse; or
  • A rejected attempt at reconciliation by a spouse.

Neither is the refusal or rejection a ground for a divorce. 

 

Annulment

Marriage within three degrees of direct lineal consanguinity or within first degree of collateral consanguinity is prohibited and void:
 

  • A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, or granddaughter;
  • A woman may not marry her grandfather, father, son, brother, or grandson;
  • A man may not marry his grandfather's wife, wife's grandmother, father's sister, mother's sister, stepmother, wife's mother, wife's daughter, son's wife, grandson's wife, wife's granddaughter, brother's daughter, or sister's daughter; and
  • A woman may not marry her grandmother's husband, husband's grandfather, father's brother, mother's brother, stepfather, husband's father, husband's son, daughter's husband, husband's grandson, brother's son, sister's son, or granddaughter's husband.

Prohibited marriages:
 

  • A minor of 16 or 17 years of age may not marry unless the individual has the consent of a parent or guardian and the parent or guardian swears that the minor is at least 16 years of age.
  • A minor of 15 years of age may not marry unless the individual has the consent of a parent or guardian and either party to be married gives the clerk a certificate from a licensed physician or certified nurse practitioner stating that the minor to be married is pregnant or has given birth to a child.
  • A minor under the age of 15 may not marry. 
     

Property Division

When the court grants an annulment or a limited or absolute divorce, the court may resolve any dispute between the parties with respect to the ownership of personal property. When the court grants an annulment or an absolute divorce, the court may also resolve any dispute between the parties with respect to the ownership of real property.

The court generally may not transfer the ownership of personal or real property from one party to the other, with the following exception:
 

  • The court may transfer ownership of an interest in a pension, retirement, profit sharing, or deferred compensation plan, from one party to either or both parties; subject to the consent of any lien-holders, family use personal property, from one or both parties to either or both parties, and subject to the terms of any lien, real property jointly owned by the parties and used as the principal residence of the parties when they lived together.

When the court determines the ownership of personal or real property, the court may grant a decree that states the ownership interest of each party and as to any property owned by both of the parties, order a partition or a sale instead of partition and a division of the proceeds.

Maryland statute defines marital property as any property acquired by one or both parties during the marriage, however titled. It includes any interest in real property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety, unless the real property is excluded by valid agreement.

Except as defined above, marital property does not include property acquired before the marriage; acquired by inheritance or gift from a third party; excluded by valid agreement; or directly traceable to any of these sources.

Maryland is an equitable distribution state, which means marital property will be divided fairly and equitably, although not necessarily equally. After making a determination of which property is marital property, and the value of the marital property, the court may transfer ownership of an interest in property, grant a monetary award, or both, as an adjustment of the equities of the parties concerning marital property, whether or not alimony is awarded.

The court shall determine the amount and the method of payment of a monetary award, or the terms of the transfer of the interest in property, or both, after considering each of the following factors:
 

  • The contribution, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
     
  • The value of all property interests of each party;
     
  • The economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made;
     
  • The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;
     
  • The length of the marriage;
     
  • The age of each party;
     
  • The physical and mental condition of each party;
     
  • How and when specific marital property or interest in property was acquired, including the effort expended by each party in accumulating the marital property or the interest in property, or both;
     
  • The contribution by either party of non-marital property to the acquisition of real property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety;
     
  • An award of alimony and any award or other provision that the court has made with respect to family use personal property or the family home; and
     
  • Any other factor that the court considers necessary or appropriate to consider in order to arrive at a fair and equitable monetary award or transfer of an interest in property.

Alimony

The court may award alimony, as a part of a decree that grants an annulment; a limited divorce; or an absolute divorce, to either party. 

If the bill of complaint for a limited or absolute divorce asks for alimony and says that the Defendant owns property in the State, but the court lacks or is unable to exercise personal jurisdiction over the Defendant, the court may grant alimony or alimony pendent lite.

Pendente lite means "pending the litigation." When the court makes an order for alimony pendent lite, it means the support will last only until the date of the divorce trial or until the parties to a lawsuit work out a settlement.

In this situation, the alimony or alimony pendente lite that is awarded is payable only from the property referred to in the bill of complaint, or the proceeds of that property. The court may pass any order regarding the property that is necessary to make the award effective.

When determining the amount of and the period for an award of alimony, the court shall consider all the factors necessary for a fair and equitable award, including the following:
 

  • The ability of the requesting party to be wholly or partly self-supporting;
     
  • The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment;
     
  • The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage;
     
  • The length of the marriage;
     
  • The contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family;
     
  • The circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties;
     
  • The age of each party;
     
  • The physical and mental condition of each party;
     
  • The ability of paying party to meet his/her needs while meeting the needs of the requesting party;
     
  • Any agreement between the parties;
     
  • The financial needs and financial resources of each party, including all income and assets, any award of marital property, the nature and amount of the financial obligations of each party and the right of each party to receive retirement benefits; and
     
  • Whether the award would cause a spouse who is a resident of a related institution and from whom alimony is sought to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than would otherwise occur.
     

The court may award alimony for an indefinite period, if it finds that due to age, illness, infirmity, or disability, the requesting party cannot reasonably be expected to make substantial progress toward becoming self-supporting, or even after the requesting party will have made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as can reasonably be expected, the respective standards of living of the parties will be unconscionably unequal.

The existence of a ground for divorce against the party seeking alimony shall not automatically bar the court from awarding alimony to that party.

If a final disposition as to alimony has been made in an agreement between the parties, the court is bound by that agreement as the agreement relates to alimony.

Unless the parties agree otherwise, alimony terminates on the death of either party; on the marriage of the recipient; or if the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result.

In Cases of Insanity:

When granting a limited divorce, an absolute divorce, or an annulment, if the court finds from the testimony of two or more physicians competent in psychiatry that one of the parties is permanently and incurably insane with no hope of recovery, then, notwithstanding any agreement between the parties, the court may require a party to do the following:
 

  • Pay alimony or support for the benefit of the insane party;
     
  • Pay a lump sum, based on the life expectancy of the insane party and the financial condition of the other party, together with the insane party's reasonable funeral expenses; or
     
  • Give bond to the State of Maryland conditioned on the payment for the care and support of the insane party's life and the insane party's reasonable funeral expenses.
     

Child Custody and Support

The parents of a minor child are jointly and severally responsible for the child's support, care, nurture, welfare, and education; and have the same powers and duties in relation to the child.

Custody:

If the parents live apart, a court may award custody of a minor child to either parent or joint custody to both parents. Neither parent is presumed to have any right to custody that is superior to the right of the other parent.

Although Maryland statutes list no specific guidelines or criteria the court uses to determine child custody, case law reflects that the courts consider many different factors, including the following:
 

  • Fitness of parents;
     
  • Character and reputation of parties;
     
  • Desire of parents and agreements between parties;
     
  • Potential for maintaining natural family relations;
     
  • Preference of the child;
     
  • Material opportunities affecting the future life of the child;
     
  • Age, health and sex of the child;
     
  • Residences of the parents, and opportunities for visitation, or geographic proximity of parental homes; 
     
  • Length of child's separation from parent;
     
  • Prior voluntary abandonment or surrender;
     
  • Capacity of parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting child's welfare;
     
  • Willingness of parents to share custody;
     
  • Relationship between child and each parent;
     
  • Potential disruption of child's social and school life;
     
  • Demands of parental employment;
     
  • Sincerity of parent's request;
     
  • Financial status of parents; and 
     
  • Benefit to parents.
     

A child, who is at least 16 years of age and subject to a custody order or decree, may file a petition to change custody.

Counseling:

Prior to granting a decree of divorce, the court may require all parties to participate in an educational seminar that is designed to educate parents about the effects, and to minimize the disruption, of a divorce on the lives of children.

Custody or Visitation and Abuse or Neglect:

In any custody or visitation proceeding, if the court has reasonable grounds to believe that a child has been abused or neglected by a party to the proceeding, the court shall determine whether abuse or neglect is likely to occur if custody or visitation rights are granted to the party. 

Unless the court specifically finds that there is no likelihood of further child abuse or neglect by the party, the court shall deny custody or visitation rights to that party, but it may approve a supervised visitation arrangement that assures the safety and physiological, psychological, and emotional well-being of the child. 

The court shall also consider evidence of abuse by a party against the other parent of the party's child; the party's spouse; or any child residing within the party's household, including a child other than the child who is the subject of the custody or visitation proceeding.

If the court finds that a party has committed this abuse, it shall make arrangements for custody or visitation that best protect the child who is the subject of the proceeding and the victim of the abuse.

Support:

Maryland uses the Incomes Shares Model to calculate child support obligations. The state's child support guidelines establish a formula for calculating support based on the number of children in the family, and the combined gross income of the adults, with consideration for the average number of overnights the child spends with each parent, health insurance costs and a few other factors.

The court may deviate from application of the guidelines only if it determines that it would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case.

The court may order either parent to pay all or part of the mother's medical and hospital expenses for pregnancy, confinement, and recovery, and medical support for the child, including neonatal expenses.

The court may include in any support order a provision requiring either parent to include the child in the parent's health insurance coverage if he/she can obtain health insurance coverage through an employer or any form of group health insurance coverage, and the child can be included at a reasonable cost to the parent in that health insurance coverage. 
 

Legal Separation vs. Limited Divorce

Maryland does not have legal separations which courts can grant. However, a couple does have the option of filing for a limited divorce. This shall not end the marriage, but does allow the parties to obtain custody, visitation, child support, and alimony orders, and/or use and possession of a family home or family use of personal property, while they are separated.

The grounds for a limited divorce include the following:
As a condition to receiving a decree of limited divorce, the court may require the parties to participate in good faith in the efforts to achieve reconciliation that the court prescribes; and assess the costs of any efforts to achieve reconciliation that the court prescribes.

The court may decree a limited divorce for a limited time or an indefinite time. The court that granted the decree may revoke it at any time on the joint application of the parties. 

Obtaining a decree for a limited divorce does not bar a couple from obtaining a decree for an absolute divorce.

If an absolute divorce is applied for and the evidence is sufficient to entitle the parties to a limited divorce, but not to an absolute divorce, the court may decree a limited divorce instead.

Separation Agreement:

A husband and wife may make a valid and enforceable deed, agreement, or settlement relating to alimony, support, property rights, or personal rights.

These types of agreements shall not be a bar to an action for absolute divorce or limited divorce, regardless of whether the deed or agreement was executed, when the parties are living separate or apart or before, after, or while there is a ground for divorce.

In a suit for absolute divorce on the grounds of voluntary separation, a separation agreement is full corroboration of the Plaintiff's testimony that the separation was voluntary if the agreement states that the spouses voluntarily agreed to separate and is executed under oath before the application for divorce is filed.

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