Legal Separation Enforcement in Maryland vs. Divorce

By Rebecca Hayley

Maryland offers two types of divorce: limited and absolute. When a couple wishes to separate and is not ready to formalize a permanent divorce, they may obtain a limited divorce. Although Maryland does not provide for an actual legal separation, a limited divorce in Maryland is similar to what is called a "legal separation" in other states. A limited divorce is the court’s recognition of the parties maintaining separate residences; however, it does not dissolve the marriage. Court orders issued in a limited divorce may prove helpful as parties transition to an absolute divorce, serving as temporary orders until the waiting period for an absolute divorce is met.

Maryland offers two types of divorce: limited and absolute. When a couple wishes to separate and is not ready to formalize a permanent divorce, they may obtain a limited divorce. Although Maryland does not provide for an actual legal separation, a limited divorce in Maryland is similar to what is called a "legal separation" in other states. A limited divorce is the court’s recognition of the parties maintaining separate residences; however, it does not dissolve the marriage. Court orders issued in a limited divorce may prove helpful as parties transition to an absolute divorce, serving as temporary orders until the waiting period for an absolute divorce is met.

Absolute Divorce

Whether seeking a no-fault absolute divorce or absolute divorce on fault grounds, such as adultery or insanity, Maryland requires couples to live in separate residences and have no sexual relations for a period of at least 12 months before it will grant an absolute divorce. Absolute divorce decrees include orders regarding division of property, custody, visitation and support. The courts can issue a limited divorce that provides for child custody, support and the division of some assets while a final divorce is pending.

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Limited Divorce Orders

In a limited divorce, the court grants custody, visitation and support orders, although real property is not divided. A limited divorce is not a prerequisite to an absolute divorce. Orders decreed by the court in a limited divorce are enforceable until they are modified or set-aside by the court. The parties may move forward after the required separation period to an absolute divorce, dissolving the marriage.

Reasons for a Limited Divorce

A limited divorce can be a good alternative to absolute divorce for those who no longer wish to be a married couple, but do not want to divorce for religious reasons -- or if there is a possibility of reconciliation. If the couple reconciles, they can file a motion to set-aside the limited divorce and the marriage will remain enforced. In cases where a couple isn't ready to divide property, a limited divorce may also provide a good option. However, when a limited divorce is granted, the parties are not free to remarry.

Enforcing Court Orders

Whether the court orders a limited or absolute divorce, all orders made by the court are legally enforceable. When the other party fails to comply with an order of the court or violates a court-approved settlement agreement, you may seek to have the order or agreement enforced. Prepare a petition for contempt using the forms found on the court website or through a third-party document preparation service. File your petition with the clerk of the court who issued the original order.

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