Maryland divorce law is complicated. We’ve been practicing for decades, and still, we research updates and changes with every case.
Still, we know some common tricks of the trade regarding Maryland divorces.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- How Maryland defines legal divorce – plus different types of separation.
- What you need to know to avoid common Maryland divorce mistakes.
- It makes sense to call in a lawyer for help when emotions run high.
(Quick note: In the United States, divorce law is primarily decided by states. Therefore, this guide explicitly addresses Maryland divorce law. If you’re getting divorced in a different state, then these rules maybe – will be! – different.)
How Maryland Law Defines Divorce
Divorce is a legal process to separate two married people officially.
It’s a simple definition, but the actual process of separating assets, custody of children, and legal titles become extraordinarily complicated.
Separations, Annulments, and Maryland Divorce Law
Sometimes, what you think of as a “divorce” isn’t a legal divorce, even if it accomplishes the same thing.
In Maryland, there are several types of legal separations. These separations accomplish the same thing as a divorce – the end of a union – and people may refer to them as divorces.
However, Maryland divorce law doesn’t technically consider these separations as “divorces.”
For example, an annulment is a legal process of voiding a marriage. The state will claim the marriage never happened, thus legally separating the two previously united parties.
For an annulment, rare in Maryland, part of the entire marriage agreement must be broken. These agreements can include one of the spouses:
- Not finalizing a marriage to someone else
- Being underage
- Not having enough mental stability to understand and enter a marriage contract
- Being too closely related
Limited Divorce Under Maryland Law Is Separation Elsewhere
In addition to annulments, couples may legally separate as part of a “limited divorce” in Maryland.
However, during a limited divorce, the marriage is still considered legally valid. Limited divorces offer both spouses time to work out marital issues – or hammer out a marital settlement agreement as part of a later permanent divorce.
These issues include but are not limited to:
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support and alimony
- Use and possession of a marital home.
A limited divorce is often used if the parties do not yet meet the requirements for an absolute divorce, and parties often use it as a stepping stone to an absolute divorce. A limited divorce, however, is not required before an absolute divorce.
Speaking of which…
Absolute Divorce: The “Official” Divorce per Maryland Law
An absolute divorce in Maryland may be what you think about when you hear the term “divorce.”
With an absolute divorce decree, Maryland courts consider the marriage as legally dissolved. Each party is deemed single and separate – free to remarry and no longer responsible for the other.
The decree outlines many details about the divorce, such as the distribution of assets and custody rights. These decisions might be negotiated during a limited divorce using mediators or attorneys or in a courtroom before a judge.
An absolute divorce does not go as far as an annulment in saying that a marriage was never valid. However, it does invalidate the union from that point forward. This new status has implications on anything from taxes to future relationships and life planning.
Common Maryland Divorce Law Pitfalls
Hindsight is 20/20. New divorcees often realize what they should (or shouldn’t) have done once everything is over.
Of course, by working with an attorney, you can avoid many pitfalls of divorce. However, we’ll walk you through a few of the most common mistakes we see when people go through the proceedings alone.
Organize Your Divorce Documents and Make Copies!
When getting a divorce, you will handle a lot of paperwork. From the first day, you file – or plan to file – get a system to organize all of the paperwork.
It may be critical down the road to have one specific form at your disposal. You will be far less stressed if you know where your documents are at any moment.
Also, expect to send some documents to the court and never get them back. For your records and the strength of your case, you should make copies of all documents you send or receive. Scanning paper documents into a digital file can help cut down on the clutter.
Getting organized doesn’t just relate to official court documents, though. You’ll also need to offer your documents as you prove your side of the divorce.
Typical evidence of this type includes financial documents, deeds and titles, and even health records. Organize your forms – especially your financial records – ahead of time, so the documentation will be easier to present.
Again, getting documents together early will make the entire process less stressful, as well as helping you save time and money.
Avoid Court If You Can
Often, a party in a divorce will not trust their spouse, believing that they must go to court to assure a fair divorce.
While you should be concerned about honesty and fairness, the court is not always the most efficient way to achieve those goals.
Instead, consider if an uncontested divorce is suitable for your situation.
In this type of divorce, the couple decides to settle their divorce outside of court. Later, they submit the agreement to a judge together for final approval.
Uncontested divorces are cheaper and faster than divorces that go to court for their proceedings since the court process is prolonged.
With experienced attorneys in the room, a fair, thoughtful agreement can be written to settle the division of assets and custody, among other things.
By staying out of court, you’ll save time and money. Though this solution isn’t for everyone – particularly if one party doesn’t want to cooperate or if some property is under contention – we recommend it to many clients.
When Emotions Are Too Hot, It’s Time to Call In the Professional
Divorces are not only complex; they are deeply emotional. Whether in or out of court, divorce proceedings are incredibly stressful, representing a dramatic change from the life you once had.
This turmoil understandably causes people to act based on short-term emotions instead of considering the long-term wellbeing of their family.
For example, perhaps one spouse files for divorce due to their former partner’s infidelity. That spouse may be tempted to seek punitive fees and damages out of revenge.
However, the court may see this behavior as immature or irresponsible, influencing their decisions – such as custody agreements or asset division – against you.
If you’re concerned this situation may happen to you, or if you’re worried about how you’ll come across to the court, then you’ll want to consider hiring a divorce attorney.
Your attorney is your neutral, third-party legal expert. They have no history with your opposing spouse, only wanting your case to succeed. Therefore, an attorney can help you make rational decisions in front of a courtroom, even when tempers flare.
Have Reasonable Expectations
Realize that to get your divorce; you’ll need to compromise. You’ll get in your way if you believe you can have whatever you want out of the divorce.
Maryland courts seek fair settlements. A “winner take all” approach to divorce negotiations will not end well.
A divorce attorney can help here, too, by telling you what you’re really going to get out of your divorce in your specific county. You can always consult with an attorney if you’d like a pointer in the right direction.
Hopefully, you now have a better grasp of Maryland divorce law, as well as how to avoid some common mistakes. We’re willing to bet that you still have many questions about your specific situation.
Fortunately, we have answers! Call or visit our offices, and you can meet with an attorney for a free initial consultation. We’ll help you figure out your divorce situation – and get you back to normal, faster.