Legal Separation in Maryland
Legal separation offers couples an alternative to divorce if they are not ready to terminate their marriage or do not want a divorce for financial, moral or religious reasons. Also, a legal separation keeps the option open for reconciliation in the case that both the parties agree.
In Maryland, you can file for a “limited divorce” which offers the same legal protection and rights as a legal separation. In the case of a limited divorce, you are still legally married to your spouse but it allows you to petition the court for decisions pertaining to property division, child custody and support and alimony.
While a legal separation is not needed in Maryland to be considered separated; nevertheless, filing for legal separation produces a legal document which can be used in the court in case you decide to get a divorce. A legal separation is a court order which allows married spouses to live separately with the same obligations and rights as that of a divorced couple.
You must be a resident of Maryland at the time of filing to file for a limited divorce in the state. Maryland requires that you are a resident of the state for at least 1 year before you file for a limited divorce in the case that the grounds for separation have occurred in a different state.
Legal Separation vs Divorce
In Maryland, there are 2 types of divorce – limited divorce and absolute divorce.
As discussed earlier, a limited divorce is like a legal separation which allows you and your spouse to live separately and also get court orders regarding issues such as property, finances and custody. However, in this case, your spouse and you remain husband and wife, which means that you cannot remarry or cannot have sexual relations with another person (this is considered adultery).
Also, during a limited divorce, your spouse and you must not impact the marital property negatively. Usually, couples opt for a limited divorce when they are unable to settle the issues pertaining to the divorce on their own. A limited divorce gives a couple time to live apart and reconcile or work out the terms of the divorce.
A limited divorce is also beneficial in order to document the date on which your spouse and you actually separated and began living separately. This is necessary to get an absolute divorce. It is possible to change a limited divorce to an absolute divorce; however, it is not necessary to get a limited divorce to get an absolute divorce.
An absolute divorce is where the marital bonds are ended after which your spouse and you can go your own way and remarry as you desire.
Grounds for Legal Separation
As per the Annotated Code of the Maryland Family Law, the grounds for a limited divorce in Maryland are:
- Voluntary separation and living apart without sexual relations
- Cruelty or inhuman treatment
- Willful desertion
The legal separation in Maryland can be either temporary or permanent.
In Maryland, there are 2 kinds of separation grounds – voluntary separation and 2 years of separation.
To get a limited divorce based on “voluntary separation”, your spouse and you must both agree to the separation, which essentially means that both of you have agreed to separate and have done so without any coercion or threat and you intend to end your marriage. For a voluntary separation, your spouse and you must live in separate homes and must not have sexual relations with each other. Also, there should be no reasonable hope for a reconciliation. To get a limited divorce on the basis of voluntary separation, there is no separation time required.
2 Years of Separation
On the other hand, in the case of a 2-year separation, if one of the spouses does not agree to the separation after the 2 years and does not wish to end the marriage, the other spouse can get a divorce on the grounds of 2 years of separation.
Procedure of Legal Separation in Maryland
Below are the steps that must be followed to file for legal separation in Maryland.
Step 1: Completing the Forms
To file for a limited divorce in Maryland, you can download the appropriate forms for limited divorce from the Maryland Judiciary website or from any 3rd-party online form provider. For a limited divorce, the following forms must be file — Complaint for Limited Divorce, Civil-Domestic Case Information Report, Child Support Worksheet form and Financial Statement if there are child support and spousal support issues.
- Civil-Domestic Case Information Report: This form has the names and contact details of both spouses. When the form is filed, the case number will be filled in by the court clerk. You must complete the sections on special requirements, contested issues and alternative dispute and also include any issues related to custody and non-custody and also any allegations of abuse (if applicable).
- Complaint for Limited Divorce: This has the contact, residential, marital and financial information. It also contains the details of children (if applicable) and if you have children, then you must indicate the custody and visitation details. The grounds for limited divorce must be mentioned. You must state the reason why you’re seeking alimony (if applicable). You must mention the types of property owned by your spouse and you together if you want the court to make decisions regarding the property. If you have a settlement agreement, then you must include the same.
- Financial Statement: If there are child support and alimony issues, then this form must be completed. You must fill the list of monthly expenses, assets and liabilities statement and financial statement sections.
- Child Support Guidelines Worksheet: This must be filled in case your spouse and you have children. You must make use of the Worksheet A if you are requesting for the primary custody of the children and in the case of joint custody, the Worksheet B must be used. All the information pertaining to the income of the parents, expenses for daycare, time spent by the child with each parent, child’s medical cost, health insurance, etc. must be filled.
Once all the forms are completed, you must date and sign them.
Step 2: Filing the Forms
Once the forms are completed, you must make two copies of the same and keep one copy with you. The original forms must be filed with the court clerk at your local county circuit courthouse along with the fee. You must file the limited divorce forms in the Maryland county where either you or your spouse live or work. When you file the papers, you will be assigned a case number by the court clerk, who will also issue a Writ of Summons.
Step 3: Serving the Forms
The limited divorce forms along with the copy of the Writ of Summons must be delivered to your spouse. You can use any adult over 18 years of age, the sheriff’s office or a private process server to deliver the forms by hand or by certified mail. If you are filing for the limited divorce, you cannot serve the papers on your spouse.
If you are using any person over 18 years or a private process server to deliver the papers, then you must provide an extra copy of the Writ of Summons and Affidavit of Service form. Once the service is completed, the person must submit the completed Affidavit of Service form and the Writ with the court clerk. If you are using the sheriff’s office, then there is no form required as the office will notify the court clerk about the delivery automatically.
Step 4: Finalization of the Limited Divorce
Once your spouse has been served, he/she has a specified period of time in which he/she must respond to the petition for a limited divorce. If your spouse is not in agreement with the provisions mentioned in the petition, then he/she can file a counter petition. If your spouse does this and you are unable to arrive at an agreement even via mediation, then you will have to go to court, where the judge will settle all the issues that you are not able to agree upon.
If your spouse and you agree to all the provisions mentioned in the petition, then both of you must sign the agreement and notarize the same so that it can be entered into the court records by the court clerk for the judge’s approval. The judge will then sign the separation agreement after reviewing it and it will then be filed with the court clerk. Once the separation agreement is filed with the court, it becomes a contract that is legally binding, which both spouses must follow.
Sometimes you may not know whether you really want to get a divorce, in which case, your spouse and you can opt for a trial separation by living in different homes. However, the time that you spend in trial separation will not be counted towards the 12 months of living apart and for voluntary separation because if you are simply trying out the separation, there may be a possibility of a reconciliation.
However, if your spouse and you do not live in the same home and you do not cohabit with each other, then the trial separation time may count towards the 2-year separation requirement because in the case of a 2-year separation, only the time the couple spends living separately counts.
A separation agreement is a contract that is signed by both spouses, which is legally binding and decides various issues such as property and debt division, child custody and support and alimony. The separation agreement is usually made by the spouses before they file for divorce and the agreement is usually in writing and is notarized.
There are 2 main objectives of separation agreements. Firstly, the separation agreement determines the responsibilities and rights of both spouses between each other and is a legally binding contract even before the Judgment of Divorce is awarded by the judge. Secondly, if the spouses opt for a voluntary separation, the separation agreement proves that the couple has agreed to the separation. The separation agreement makes it easier for the court to grant a divorce based on voluntary separation for a period of 12 months.
Legal Separation Costs in Maryland
To file for a limited divorce in Maryland, you need to pay a filing fee of $165, which may vary from one county to another.
- You can check the website of the Maryland State Court for the FAQs and links for forms related to legal separation.
- If you are planning to represent yourself, then you can visit the People’s Law Library and also use the Family Law Self-Help Centers to review the forms and instructions for legal separation in Maryland.
We hope this gives you better clarity between a legal separation and a divorce, and which of the two would be a better route for you and your spouse to take based on your situation.