Legal Separation Enforcement in Maryland vs. Divorce

by Rebecca Hayley
Rather than a

Rather than a "legal separation" Maryland offers two types of divorce.

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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.

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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.

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.