Divorce in Maryland
Maryland Divorce Lawyers
Our clients are in the best position to make appropriate life-altering decisions when they understand the divorce procedures under Maryland law, the many legal rights they possess, and how this procedure and their rights will intersect. Understanding the family law process requires an understanding of the different forms and grounds of divorce, the types of custody, financial aspects of child support, and the different classifications of marital and non-marital property.
With a brief consultation, one of our attorneys can explain the divorce process under Maryland law and the options that are available. Most importantly, an attorney can explain the practical and common-sense realities of your case and how to best proceed based upon your circumstances. If you have ongoing legal proceedings or believe that you will soon be involved in a court battel, call us today to find out how we can help.
Grounds for Divorce
Maryland law provides for two distinct forms of divorce: limited divorce and absolute divorce. Each type of divorce carries with it specific grounds a party must meet to be entitled to relief. Maryland sets forth additional procedural and jurisdictional requirements based upon the circumstances, such as a residency requirement and whether another state has pending family law proceedings for the parties.
A limited divorce is what its name suggests: a limited form of divorce that does not resolve all potential issues between the parties. Most importantly, it does not terminate the marriage, and as such, the parties are still legally married as far as the law is concerned. However, a limited divorce does allow the parties to address financial and custody issues until and unless grounds for an absolute divorce are met. Maryland allows limited divorce for the following grounds:
- Cruelty of treatment of the complaining party or of a minor child of the complaining party.
- Excessively vicious conduct to the complaining party or to a minor child of the complaining party.
- Separation, if the parties are living separate and apart without cohabitation.
An absolute divorce is a full legal divorce that settles all issues between the parties and terminates the marriage between the parties. The grounds for an absolute divorce are as follows:
- Felony/misdemeanor conviction and prison sentence.
- Separation of 12 months.
- Cruelty of treatment toward the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party.
- Excessively vicious conduct toward the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party.
- Additional mutual consent with a full marital settlement agreement.
Many additional substantive and procedural requirements exist. For those seeking to avoid a divorce, Maryland law also recognizes various defense to the grounds for divorce depending upon the circumstances.
An increasingly common result in most divorce matters is an uncontested divorce through a global negotiated marital settlement agreement. In a relatively recent change in Maryland law, parties who execute a written settlement agreement resolving the material aspects of their marriage, such as child custody and support, property division, and alimony, are entitled to obtain an uncontested divorce through mutual consent. With specific and concise filings from each parties, a divorce can be obtained with relatively minimal effort and expense.
However, even where a separation is amicable and parties can negotiate in good-faith, a settlement agreement made without the advice of counsel can create more problems down the road. While all circumstances are different, there are practical considerations that should be considered before executing a marital settlement agreement. The settlement agreement becomes part of the Circuit Court’s judgment of divorce and can only be modified consistent with Maryland law. Thus, while an uncontested divorce may seem like the obvious solution to a contested divorce, legal advice is just as critical.
Through enaction of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, effective January 1, 2013, Maryland law has recognized a same-sex couples’ right to marry. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Obergefell v. Hodges held that the U.S. Constitution protected a same-sex couples’ right to marry in all 50 states. Thus, the law now recognizes divorcing same-sex couples have the same rights as other separating spouses and face the full array of typical legal issues.
However, same-sex couples also face unique legal issues as divorce and property law evolve to keep pace with changing societal trends. For example, “adultery” was traditionally defined as consensual relations between a man and a woman, a definition potentially inapplicable to same-sex couples, yet no one would dispute that a same-sex couple could divorce on the grounds of adultery. Many additional nuances, both simple and complex, exist related to real property disposition, estate and inheritance law, and adoptions.
Collaborative Divorce and Custody
Not every divorce or custody battle need result in a long, drawn-out traumatic Circuit Court battle. The collaborative divorce process is a less stressful, less expensive, and negotiation-centered approach to resolving disputes with minimal court involvement. The participants agree, in writing, to resolve their disputes out of Court, agree to openly communicate, and exchange relevant information in good faith.
Through this process, crucial long-term decisions are made by the participants and not by a judge unfamiliar with the participants’ lives and out of touch with their needs. Through the negotiated process, parties who believe they have little to agree upon often find that through open and candid discussions they can find common ground on most, if not all, issues between them. With the assistance of counsel, the parties can identify the issues that must be resolved and either negotiate those issues directly or with the assistance of a mediator.
Division of Marital Assets
The equitable division of marital and non-marital property can be one of the most confusing and heavily contested issues in a divorce. Indeed, the division of marital assets, such as a marital home, different retirement savings plans, and family property acquired over many years, has long-term financial consequences.
With some exceptions, marital property is generally defined as property, however titled, acquired during the course of the marriage. Maryland law grants the Circuit Court authority to identify marital and non-marital property, value said property, and make an equitable distribution (i.e. transfer title) of the property based upon the circumstances of the marriage. The source of the funds, through inheritance or gift, can complicate the identification of marital property.
The Circuit Court’s equitable distribution of marital property does not necessarily mean an equal distribution of marital property. The Court uses 11 statutory factors to determine which party will receive specific property. Also further complicating the divisions of marital and non-marital assets is the presence of marital debt and the Court’s inability to equitably divide specific property; the family home or car cannot be physically divided in half for each party or easily liquidated for distribution. To address this problem, the Court is permitted to make a monetary award from one party to another, which compensates a party for the equity in indivisible marital property.
Where child custody is a factor, the division of marital property can be even more complicated. The Circuit Court has the ability to award use and possession of a “family home” or “family use personal property” to one party or the other, regardless of how the property in question is titled. Use and possession orders, and the property subject thereto, has strict limitations. The Court’s distribution of marital property, as opposed to a monetary award, may be heavily skewed to the party having custody in the Court’s determination of the best interests of the minor children.
With so many competing factors affecting the financial and long-term plans, understanding how the Court might value and distribute marital property is critical.
Annapolis Divorce Lawyers at Oliveri & Larsen Understand the Divorce Process in Maryland
If you have a dispute you are unable to resolve, our Maryland divorce lawyers at Oliveri & Larsen can help you resolve the matter. Call 410-295-3000 or contact us online today to schedule your initial appointment. Strategically located in Annapolis, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Maryland, including Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Calvert County, Hartford County, Howard County, Ocean City, Queen Anne’s County, St. Mary’s County, Worcester County, and the upper and lower Eastern Shores of Maryland.