Divorce Laws in Maryland vs Virginia

By Beverly Bird

The finer points of divorce can vary significantly from state to state, but Maryland and Virginia are remarkably similar in their statutes. Provided that you and your spouse meet the residency requirements for both jurisdictions, you can divorce on either side of the state line under much the same terms and achieve a similar outcome.


The spouse who files for divorce is the one who must ensure residency requirements are met in the jurisdiction where she's filing. Virginia is more lenient about this than Maryland is. A spouse need only live in Virginia for six months to be able to file there whereas Maryland's requirement is one year.

Types of Divorce

Both Maryland and Virginia recognize a type of legal separation that's similar to divorce but prohibits spouses from remarrying. Maryland refers to this proceeding as a "limited divorce," while Virginia calls it a "divorce from bed and board." Both states also recognize traditional divorces that terminate the marriage entirely and allow spouses to move on with their lives. Virginia calls this a "divorce from the bond of matrimony," while Maryland refers to it as an "absolute divorce."

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Grounds for traditional divorce are similar in Virginia and Maryland. In both states, no-fault grounds for divorce is a year's separation. Neither state recognizes irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as grounds for divorce, typical no-fault grounds in other states. Both states also allow spouses to file on fault grounds as well, including adultery, felony conviction, cruelty, desertion and insanity. However, Virginia requires that cruelty and desertion must occur in conjunction with the one-year separation period, whereas Maryland imposes no such requirement. You can file on cruelty grounds without waiting and for desertion grounds if the separation has lasted at least 12 months without interruption prior to filing.

Property Division

Both Maryland and Virginia are equitable distribution states. Courts can divide marital property 50/50 in a divorce or they can stray from that division and distribute property in a way that is fair and equitable based on the circumstances. Both jurisdictions differentiate between marital and separate property, and spouses do not have to share separate property post-divorce. Separate property includes inheritances received by one spouse, gifts from third parties made to one spouse alone, and assets acquired before the marriage.


Like all states, Maryland and Virginia base custody decisions on the best interests of the children involved. Both states will consider a child's wishes when resolving custody disputes if the judge considers the child to be mature enough, and neither state sets a firm chronological age for when a child is mature. Both states also lean toward awarding custody to the parent who is most likely to facilitate contact and visitation with the other. Virginia considers which parent was the primary caregiver during the marriage and Maryland weighs the "character and reputation" of each parent.

Child Support

Child support is mandatory in both states and both use the income shares model when calculating it. This model takes both parents' incomes into consideration. They're added together, a portion of which is set aside for the children's needs, and then each parent pays a percentage of this portion based on his or her contribution to the combined total income. For example, if one parent earns $1,000 a month and the other earns $4,000 a month, the parent who earns less would contribute 20 percent and the parent who earns more would contribute 80 percent. If the amount set aside for the children is $1,000 per month, the custodial parent might pay $200 directly toward the children's shelter, food and clothing needs, and the non-custodial parent would make an $800 cash payment to the non-custodial parent as his contribution.

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