Grounds for Divorce: Legal Reasons to Separate in Maryland

In Maryland, separating couples usually need to offer “grounds” – basically a legal term for “justified reasons” – for getting divorced. Establishing grounds for divorce shows the court that you and your spouse have an actual reason to end the marriage.

What type of grounds for divorce applies to your situation depends on the type of divorce you’re seeking. Make sure you pick the right reason for divorcing. If you can’t prove your grounds for divorce, a judge may end up deciding in your partners’ favor.

In this walkthrough, we’ll cover:

Grounds for Limited Divorce in Maryland

The “limited divorce”, sometimes referred to as a “legal separation” in other states, acts as an in-between stage for divorce.

Limited divorces occur when both parties can’t resolve their differences, but still haven’t obtained grounds for an absolute divorce. (They are also useful in cases where one party requires financial relief of some kind.)

In a limited divorce, the state recognizes that you and your spouse live apart as a step toward absolute divorce. However, you’re still considered legally married to each other.

For example, if one spouse has sex with someone other than their partner during the separation, that’s still legally considered adultery.

During that separation year, a court can determine which party is at fault for the divorce (if any), specify which party will have custody of the children, resolve alimony issues, and make other important financial decisions.

You and your spouse may file for a limited divorce on the following grounds:

  • Cruel treatment by one spouse toward the other spouse or that spouse’s minor child
  • Excessively vicious conduct by the defendant toward one spouse or their minor child
  • Desertion. Note that for desertion to be a valid ground for divorce, there must be desertion for 12 continuous months with no sign of reconciling. A court will not accept desertion if abuse or violence was involved.
  • Living separately for 12 consecutive months without having sexual relations before the divorce complaint is filed.

Grounds for an Absolute Divorce in Maryland

The second type of divorce in Maryland the “absolute divorce”.

An absolute divorce is what most people associate with a stereotypical divorce: It legally dissolves your marriage. As soon as a divorce decree is filed, you can remarry and divide your property. Absolute divorce is the most common type of divorce in Maryland.

Couples are not required to get a limited divorce prior to seeking an absolute divorce, although the court may decide to order a limited divorce in some circumstances. If you can’t come up with better grounds for divorce, then 12-month separation period of a limited divorce would help offer solid grounds for absolute divorce.

Any of the previous grounds for a limited divorce may be filed to seek an absolute divorce, with the following additions:

  • Adultery.
  • Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, if the defendant is sentenced to three or more years in jail and has served 12 months of the sentence before the plaintiff files for divorce.
  • Insanity. Divorce grounds based on insanity generally mean that one spouse is in a mental institution, hospital, or similar facility for at least three years before the divorce complaint is filed. The court must also hear from at least two psychiatrists that the insanity is incurable and there’s no hope of recovery.
  • Mutual consent of both spouses.

>>READ MORE ABOUT DIVORCES IN MARYLAND<<

Specific Grounds for Divorce in Maryland: Adultery, Desertion, Cruelty, and Mutual Consent

Some divorce grounds are deceptively complicated. These grounds include:

Adultery as Grounds for Divorce

To prove adultery in court, you must show the offending spouse had both the “disposition and the opportunity” for relations outside of the marriage.

  • A “disposition” might be public displays of affection – such as handholding, kissing, and hugging – between the guilty spouse and someone else.
  • An “opportunity” might be proving that your spouse was seen entering someone else’s apartment alone at 11 p.m. and not coming out until 8 a.m. the following morning.

The court does not accept verbal admissions of adultery. You must prove it through text messages, pictures, e-mails, and similar items. If a cheating partner has either fathered or borne a child whose biological parent is not the other spouse during the marriage, then the court may consider that as proof of adultery.

The law is not completely clear about how adultery relates to same-sex marriages. However, the Maryland Attorney General issued an opinion stating that adultery should include “a spouse’s extramarital sexual infidelity with a person of the same sex.”

Desertion as Grounds for Divorce

Desertion is a fault-based ground for divorce that can be either “actual” or “constructive.”

In “actual” desertion, the deserting spouse generally permanently leaves the family home without justification. To prove actual desertion, the spouse seeking the divorce must prove ALL of the following elements:

  • The desertion has continued uninterrupted for 12 months;
  • The deserting spouse intended to end the marriage;
  • Cohabitation has ended;
  • The deserter’s leaving was not justified;
  • The parties are beyond any hope of getting back together; and
  • The deserted spouse did not consent to the desertion.

In “constructive” desertion, the person who leaves the home is justified in their actions. Therefore, the court actually consider the leaving spouse the “deserted” party, and the spouse who remained the one at fault.

Technically, filing for divorce on grounds for constructive desertion also requires the same proof offered for actual desertion, but in reverse. If a spouse’s actions cause the other spouse to leave the home – such as cruelty or abuse – then the court may consider the spouse who remained in the home to have deserted the relationship, due to their actions.

For constructive desertion cases, the court will consider:

  • The nature and duration of the misconduct;
  • The length of time the leaving spouse endured the misconduct; and
  • What attempts the leaving spouse made to try to save the marriage.

Generally, the court will allow the spouse to leave and obtain a divorce for constructive desertion if remaining in the home would make them lose their self-respect or put them or their children in danger of either physical or mental harm.

Cruelty of Treatment and Excessively Vicious Conduct as Grounds for Divorce

A spouse’s cruel treatment is grounds for divorce where the conduct endangers the life or health of the other person, their minor child, or otherwise makes living together unsafe.

A single act of cruelty can be grounds for divorce if it shows the offender wanted to seriously hurt someone or threatens to do so in the future.

Cruelty as a grounds for divorce can also include mental abuse.

Ultimately, the spouse’s conduct must show that:

  • They intentionally tried to seriously harm the health and happiness of the other person or their minor child;
  • Their actions risks the other person’s safety or health;
  • It is physically or mentally impossible for the person to stay in the marriage; and
  • There is no reasonable hope to fix things.

Cruelty as grounds for divorce is most often used in domestic abuse situations.

Mutual Consent of the Spouses as Grounds for Divorce

In 2015, Maryland created a new ground for getting an uncontested divorce. This new type of divorce is called a “mutual consent” divorce, also known as a "quickie divorce." 

As the informal name implies, a mutual consent divorce does not require you and your spouse to be separated before you file for the divorce – vastly speeding up the process.

You and your spouse may qualify for a mutual consent divorce if:

  1. You have no children, or you can otherwise agree on custody and child support;
  2. You and your spouse have signed a legally binding Marital Settlement Agreement, or MSA;
  3. Neither you nor your spouse asks the court to “set aside” – or basically legally ignore – the MSA before the official divorce hearing; and
  4. The plaintiff must appear at the uncontested divorce hearing.

If you meet the above criteria, you can get an absolute, “final” divorce without the one-year separation period. It also means that you can stay living in the same residence while you and your spouse negotiate the terms of your MSA, which can save you both money in the long run.

With so many nuances to consider, it may be hard to pick which grounds best fits your situation. After all, picking the wrong grounds for divorce could sway the court in your ex-spouse’s favor. Just be sure to pick a reason that you can prove with documentation.

Of course, if you need help picking the best one for your case, contact us for a free consultation. We’ll suggest a recommended direction to take during your divorce.

[CHECKLIST] If you need a family lawyer or domestic legal counsel in Maryland, learn the 8 questions you must ask before retaining.

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