Maryland Divorce and Separation Law

by Beverly Bird

The lines between separation and divorce are a bit blurred in Maryland and can be confusing. The state recognizes limited divorce, which is a form of legal separation, but its no-fault grounds for an absolute divorce involve separation as well. You can also divorce without separating first. In all cases, however, some basic rules apply.

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Limited Divorce

Maryland's limited divorce is the equivalent of a judicial separation in other states. You must begin the proceedings by filing a complaint, and the court requires grounds: desertion or constructive desertion, cruelty or excessively vicious conduct, or separation. Constructive desertion means you were the one who left the marriage, but your spouse drove you away. Cruelty and excessively vicious conduct are much the same -- the inflicted harm may be emotional or physical, against either yourself or your child. The first three grounds for limited divorce require proving misconduct on the part of your spouse, but separation only requires that you live apart with no intention of reconciling. Unlike when you file for an absolute divorce, the separation period does not have to last a particular length of time, but you and your spouse do have to reside in separate households at the time you file.

Separation as Divorce Grounds

Separation is also grounds for an absolute divorce, which legally terminates your marriage. Maryland requires that you and your spouse live apart for a year to file on this no-fault ground, and you can't do so until the year is behind you – the time period can't run while you're waiting for your divorce proceedings to unfold. You can negotiate a marital settlement agreement or separation agreement during this time, which is legally binding as a contract. The terms can then carry over to your divorce decree.

Absolute Divorce

Other grounds for absolute divorce include desertion of at least a year, constructive desertion, adultery, cruelty or excessively vicious conduct, conviction of a crime and insanity. Several exacting requirements apply to the insanity and conviction grounds, so they're cumbersome to use. If you don't want to cast blame for the demise of your marriage, the only no-fault option in this state is to wait out a year's separation.

Equitable Distribution of Property

When the court issues a judgment of absolute divorce, the judge will divide your marital assets according to the principals of equitable distribution. This does not mean that property will be divided equally, but that the court will distribute it in a way that seems fair. Marital property is anything acquired while you and your spouse were married, but does not include gifts or inheritances you may have received in your name. It typically does not include anything you owned before you married. If you or your spouse waived your right to certain property in a prenuptial agreement, this is also excluded from distribution in a divorce. Maryland courts can consider marital misconduct when dividing property if the misconduct led to the end of the marriage. The court cannot make a final determination regarding marital property when granting a limited divorce, but it can address issues of possession of property while you're separated.

Child Custody

If you have children, Maryland is in line with most other states when it comes to custody. The court will place the children with the parent who is most likely to provide for their best interests. Like most states, Maryland recognizes two forms of custody – physical and legal. Physical custody relates to which parent provides the primary home for your children. Legal custody relates to who makes important decisions for your children; this responsibility can be jointly shared with your spouse or one of you may be awarded sole legal custody.