Requirements for Divorce in Maryland
In Maryland, there are 2 kinds of divorce: Limited Divorce and Absolute Divorce.
Limited Divorce: This is essentially a legal action, which lets both spouses resolve a few important issues; however, it does not terminate the marriage. Usually, people opt for a limited divorce when there are issues regarding finances, children or other issues which must be addressed before both spouses can file for an “absolute divorce”.
Absolute Divorce: This completely dissolves a marriage and also resolves the various related issues. The couple can remarry once the absolute divorce is finalized.
To file for divorce, you need to live in Maryland for at least one year
Your spouse and you should live separately and apart for a minimum of 12 months before you can file for divorce.
Or else, the spouse filing for divorce must show that there are reasons or “fault grounds” for the divorce. This essentially means that the plaintiff should prove that his/her spouse caused the marriage to break up.
A divorce becomes final in Maryland 30 days after the divorce judgment is signed by the judge.
Grounds for a MD divorce
The grounds for a limited divorce are:
Cruel treatment towards the plaintiff or minor child of the plaintiff by the defendant.
Vicious conduct towards the plaintiff or minor child of the plaintiff by the defendant.
If both spouses are living apart and separately without sexual relations.
The grounds for an absolute divorce are:
Separation of 12 months, where the couple has lived separately and apart without sexual relations before filing for divorce.
Conviction of misdemeanor or felony in any us state or court.
Cruelty towards the plaintiff or the minor child of the plaintiff, without any expectations of the reconciliation of the couple.
Vicious conduct towards the plaintiff or minor child of the plaintiff, without any expectations of the reconciliation of the couple.
Mutual consent of both spouses.
Desertion, and for it to be valid:
It should continue for 12 months without any interruption before one of the spouse files for divorce.
It must be deliberate and final.
There should be no expectations of the reconciliation of the couple.
Step 1: Starting your Maryland divorce
To start the divorce process in Maryland, the plaintiff must complete the form “Complaint for Absolute Divorce” along with the “Civil Domestic Case Information Report.” In Maryland, the spouse filing for divorce is called the “plaintiff” while the other spouse is known as the “defendant.”
These forms must then be filed in the circuit court of your county. There are 8 circuit courts and each court covers one county or more.
Preparing the Documents
You can get the forms needed to file for divorce in Maryland here. Documents Needed for Filing for Divorce in Maryland:
Civil-Domestic Case Information Report: This is to be filled by both spouses.
Complaint for Absolute Divorce: This identifies both spouses, the grounds, children and relief requested.
Certificate of Service: This form certifies that the spouse has mailed the divorce papers to the other spouse.
Affidavit of Service: This form certifies that the person who has served the divorce papers has delivered the papers to the defendant.
Marital Settlement Agreement (Ms ): This is a notarized agreement between the 2 spouses which establishes the terms of the divorce.
Child Support Worksheet: This is used to calculate child support as per the state guidelines.
Answer to Complaint: This is filled when the defendant wants to contest the action.
Request for Hearing: This is used by the plaintiff to request for a hearing.
Judgment of Absolute Divorce: This is the court order which ends the marriage.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
Once you have completed the necessary forms, then you must file the divorce complaint with the clerk of the circuit court for the particular county which has the jurisdiction. You must file the papers along with the filing fee and if you cannot afford the fee, then you must file a request for a fee waiver. The divorce complaint and the summons that is generated by the circuit court must be served on your spouse.
Step 2: Serving your spouse
The sheriff of the county where your spouse lives.
Any person who is 18 years or older.
Private process server.
Certified us mail with a return receipt. If you are sending the papers via the us postal service, then any other person, not the plaintiff, should send the papers since the person must fill out the affidavit of service.
Once your spouse has been served, you must receive the proof of service from the server whether the sheriff, 3rd party, process server or the us postal service, which shows that your spouse has been served properly.
Step 3: Contested or uncontested MD divorce?
MD contested Divorce (High Costs)
If your spouse and you are unable to agree on all the main issues of your divorce, then your divorce will be a contested one and will go to trial, where a judge will listen to your cases, the testimonies of witnesses, go through your evidence, etc. and then decide on the various issues. Usually, contested divorces take a long time to be finalized and are expensive because you will have to hire a lawyer to fight the case on your behalf in court.
MD uncontested Divorce (Low Costs)
In an uncontested divorce, your spouse and you have an agreement on all the main issues of your divorce such as:
Marital property, assets and debts division.
Tax exemptions and deductions.
Child custody, child support, visitation, medical expenses, health and dental insurance expenses.
Any other issues.
In Maryland, there are no special rules or processes in the case of uncontested divorces. If your spouse and you agree on all the terms of your divorce before filing, then you must write a settlement agreement, which can ensure that your divorce is closed quickly.
If you are unable to agree on all issues right away, but later, you have a complete agreement, your divorce will take comparatively longer to be finalized but nevertheless, it will be much faster than a full-blown trial.
Step 4: Do it yourself or get a lawyer?
DIY divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)
If you plan to handle your divorce on your own without the help of a lawyer, then the first thing you must do is find the appropriate forms required to file for divorce and complete them. The divorce forms are provided by the Maryland Court online or you can buy them from an online provider.
There are very detailed instructions which you need to follow precisely and so, you should take time and fill them out very carefully. Type all the information on the computer or write very neatly.
Rushing through the forms and making mistakes can delay your divorce. If you have any doubts about the forms, then you can check with the court clerk; however, you must bear in mind that they cannot give you any legal advice.
Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)
If you are not really certain about how to fill the forms needed to file for divorce and you do not want to hire the services of a divorce lawyer, then you could use an online divorce service to help in filling the documents. All you need to do is answer some questions about your case and the online service will fill out the forms you need.
You can start your divorce for as little as $84 with an online divorce service like 3StepDivorce and can have your paperwork done within a couple of hours.
Once you answer the questions about your case, your final documents will be generated and reviewed. You can simply print the documents and file them with the court clerk in the local courthouse appropriate for your county. You will be charged a fee by the online service for their services.
Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)
While you may be able to handle your divorce on your own, it is usually best to allow a divorce lawyer to handle it for you, because not understanding or knowing the legal nuances can put you at a disadvantage when it comes to handling your case.
The divorce procedure of Maryland may be very different from another state and there are many factors such as understanding the court’s deadlines and meeting them, failing which can jeopardize your case.
If this is the route you have to take, try using a divorce mediator to reduce the amount of time billed that you would if you were using your lawyer. a mediators job is to help both spouse easily and quickly come to an agreement regarding the matter at hand, and best of all they’ll save you thousands of dollars.
A family law attorney will be aware of the rules and law of Maryland and can fight on your behalf, especially if your spouse and you are unable to agree on the various terms of the divorce and your case goes to trial before a judge. The attorney will present your case to the judge, all the evidence and testimonies of witnesses. However, usually, divorce trials are expensive and also take a long time.
Step 5: resolving The big issues
Maryland Property Division
When it comes to the division of property, Maryland follows equitable distribution and the following factors are considered by the court before the decision is taken about how the property must be divided.
Length of the marriage.
Economic and non-economic contribution of each spouse to the family.
Property interests of both spouses.
Each spouse’s financial situation.
The reason why the marriage broke down.
Mental and physical state of each spouse.
Method and date of acquisition of the marital property.
Contributions of either party in the acquisition of the property.
If the court has awarded alimony in the proportion to the usage of the family residence.
Any other relevant factors.
Alimony / Spousal Support
In Maryland, there are 3 types of alimony – temporary, indefinite and rehabilitative and the court will decide the most appropriate type depending on the various facts of the case. The court may order one of the spouses to pay alimony to the other spouse and consider the following factors when deciding if the alimony is appropriate:
Ability of the receiving spouse to support himself/herself.
Length of the marriage.
Standard of living maintained by both spouses during the marriage.
Time needed for the receiving spouse to get the training or education required to find a suitable job.
Financial and non-financial contributions of each spouse to the marriage.
Reason why the marriage broke down.
Ages of both spouses.
Physical and mental condition of both spouses.
Ability of the paying spouse to meet his/her own needs while paying alimony.
Agreement between the spouses, if any.
If the alimony will have any impact on the eligibility of the spouse to get medical assistance benefits.
Maryland Child Custody Laws
In Maryland, child custody is of 2 types – legal and physical. Legal custody is all the decisions that the parents must make for their child such as schooling, health care, etc., while physical custody is where the child lives physically. And, there are 2 types of custody arrangements – sole custody and joint custody.
Sole Custody: This is when the child lives with one of the parents and that parent makes all the decisions that are related to the child.
Joint Custody: This is where the physical custody of the child is shared by both parents, who have the joint authority in making decisions related to the child.
When awarding the custody of the child, the court will consider the following factors:
Physical and emotional capability of each parent to take care of the child.
Each parent’s character.
Wishes of the parents.
Possibility of retaining the natural family relations.
Any scope of agreement between both parents.
Wishes of the child.
Age, gender and health of the child.
The financial security of the child.
Residence of each of the parents and how it will impact visitation.
Duration of separation between either of the parents and the child.
If either parent has abandoned the child or surrendered their custody rights voluntarily.
While awarding the child support, the court considers the following factors:
Finances of each parent.
Age and health condition of each parent.
Age and health of the child.
Quality of living of the child before the divorce.
Educational needs of the child.
If the custodial parent has any other children to support.
Any settlement agreement between the parents.
Current and future income of each parent.
Each parent’s willingness to allow the other parent visitation with the child.
The ability of the supporting parent to maintain two households.
Wishes of the parents for sole or joint custody.
You can use the child support calculator to estimate the child support you must pay.
Step 6: Finalizing your divorce in Maryland
To get a divorce in Maryland, even if it is an uncontested one, and both spouses have an agreement on all the issues, the spouse who filed the divorce complaint must appear in court to give a specific testimony about marriage and divorce and the plaintiff must also bring along a witness to validate the testimony. In case of a contested divorce and there are issues that have not been settled at the divorce hearing or at the trial, both spouses will have to appear in court.
The plaintiff must then write to the court clerk requesting a date for an “uncontested hearing”. The plaintiff should come to the hearing along with a witness, who can testify to the residency of the plaintiff. The plaintiff should also carry copies of the marriage certificate and separation agreement and information supporting his/her residency in Maryland.
The plaintiff must then answer questions put forth by the judge at the final hearing. The defendant spouse can appear in court but can also waive his/her appearance. The final judgment will be recorded by the court reporter and will be approved by the judge. If all the rules have been followed and the divorce order is reasonable and fair, the judge will sign the order and the divorce will be finalized.