The laws in most states allow you to legally leave your spouse in one of two ways, either completely or partially. In Maryland, the complete option is an absolute divorce, what most people think of when they hear the word “divorce.” The alternative is what amounts to a legal separation. Maryland’s legislative code refers to a legal separation as a limited divorce.
An absolute divorce requires that you prove grounds. Maryland offers eight, but some overlap. For example, there are two grounds for separation, one if you and your spouse agree to separate and live apart for a year, the other if you live apart for two years without the consent of both spouses. You can also file for desertion after one year if you’re the spouse who hasn’t consented to the separation. Maryland has two cruelty grounds, one for “excessively vicious conduct” and the other for “cruel treatment.” You can also file for absolute divorce on grounds of adultery, conviction of a crime or your spouse's insanity. The separation grounds are the closest Maryland comes to the concept of no-fault divorce.
Many of Maryland’s grounds for absolute divorce require that you wait some period of time before you can file. This can cause problems for spouses who require financial support because the court can’t make temporary orders for such things until you file. In addition to the one-year and two-year separation periods, you can’t use the imprisonment ground unless a criminal court sentenced your spouse to three years or more and he actually served a year of that sentence. The insanity ground requires that your spouse be institutionalized for a minimum of three years.
The effect of Maryland’s absolute divorce is the same as all traditional divorces. You’re no longer married, so you can remarry. You no longer have any interest or liability in property or for debts your spouse acquires. Custody and visitation terms are set, alimony is awarded where applicable and your marital property and debts are divided between you.
If you can’t meet the time requirements for a ground of absolute divorce, or if you’re not entirely sure you want to be absolutely divorced, you can make use of Maryland’s “halfway” option of limited divorce. The available grounds are limited to separation, desertion, cruelty and excessively vicious conduct. There are no waiting periods before you can file, although time frames exist before the court will finalize your limited divorce. After you file, however, the court can set temporary orders for support, custody and some property division. In exchange for this relief, you give up your right to remarry because you’re technically still married. If you become involved with someone else, it’s still adultery, just as if you and your spouse were living together. The court can’t divide property that you hold title to jointly.
You can convert a limited divorce to an absolute divorce after you’ve met the grounds for absolute divorce, but Maryland law doesn’t require you to have a limited divorce before you can file on absolute grounds.