Divorce proceedings intimidate the toughest of people – and that’s before navigating specific state laws. After all, divorces differ between states.
If you’re pursuing a divorce in Maryland, then breathe easy. We’ve got answers to some of the most frequently asked questions our Maryland divorce clients have asked us over 25+ years as a Firm.
By the end of this walkthrough, you’ll understand:
Divorce is a legal process to officially separate two married people. It’s a simple definition, but the actual process of separating assets, custody of children, and legal titles becomes extraordinarily complicated.
A divorce changes your life. How much you see your children, where you live, and your financial and legal status – all can change during a divorce. Make sure you know your options and get professional guidance to achieve a positive outcome.
In Maryland, a divorce starts when one party files the correct paperwork with a county circuit court. One of those parties must have lived in Maryland for at least six months for the circuit court to have jurisdiction.
We’ve had to postpone client divorce cases due to this requirement, so make sure to establish residency before pursuing your divorce in Maryland!
The paperwork required to open a divorce case varies from person to person. That said, everyone must fill out two forms:
These forms give the court a basic summary of the relationship and how a divorce might proceed. Information may include how many children you have, how much money you may want from a spouse, the grounds for the divorce, and plenty of other details.
The answers you include on this form determine the other forms that you will need to complete for the court. Make copies of all documents for your records before submittal – just in case!
These documents can easily overwhelm Maryland divorce filers. An attorney not only points out the important details and best ways to communicate your side of the divorce, but also files some forms on your behalf while representing you in court.
If you’d like to avoid retaining a divorce attorney, then consider consulting the free family law clinics in most Maryland circuit courts. However, know that they cannot fill out any forms for you or represent you in court.
Your divorce proceedings will depend on the options you select in the divorce forms you filed. Any Maryland divorce basically falls into four main categories:
A contested, at-fault divorce tends to take the longest, while an uncontested, no-fault divorce is generally the quickest.
A contested divorce in Maryland means that the divorcing parties could not come to a meaningful agreement out of court. Therefore, many decisions – from asset distribution to custody rules – must be decided by a Maryland judge in your jurisdiction.
Since the facts of a case must be proven in a court setting, contested divorces usually take longer. Divorce attorneys spend a lot of time in “discovery” for their clients to determine assets, childcare, income, and every other detail to justify their side before a judge.
Contested divorces occasionally mean less control for the divorcing party over the process: A judge makes final decisions, not the spouses. However, contested divorces produce a legally official and binding solution to a, well, contested situation.
During an uncontested divorce in Maryland, the parties cooperate before a divorce trial to make decisions together.
This process often takes advantage of marital settlement agreements, or MSAs. During an MSA, the spouses (with the help of attorneys or mediators) mutually agree on items such as asset division, visitation, and every other detail of the separation. These agreements are then submitted to the judge to review.
If you and your spouse complete an MSA, then submit it with the other forms during your initial filing at the Maryland circuit court.
An at-fault divorce in Maryland is one in which one spouse claims the other is fully responsible for the separation.
Many reasons may be claimed for an at-fault divorce, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment. On the initial divorce forms, the filing party must list the specific reason for fault, along with any relevant evidence they may have.
Expect at-fault divorces to be long and difficult. The filing party must demonstrate the guilt of the other party. “Proving guilt” often means more time spent in discovery and, ultimately, more time in court.
A no-fault divorce in Maryland is when neither party claims the other should be held legally responsible for a divorce.
In no-fault divorces, no one needs to demonstrate fault or guilt, since no one is accused of anything. Thankfully, this situation usually leads to less time in court.
Sometimes no-fault, uncontested divorces turn into bitter transactions that take longer than initially expected or hoped for. In these cases, we think it’s best to call in the cavalry with a divorce attorney to avoid more wasted time, money, and stress.
A Maryland divorce can last anywhere from a few months to several years. The options you choose when first filing can speed up the process, but some are out of your control.
For example, a couple often needs to be separated without any sort of marital contact for 12 months – a full year – before the courts will accept their divorce forms. That requirement alone automatically makes many divorces linger for more than a year, unless you qualify for a "quickie" divorce.
Ultimately, the length of your divorce largely depends on how much you can stay out of court. Therefore, the fastest divorces in Maryland tend to be uncontested or no-fault divorces – but then, sometimes things go wrong.
For example, you may want a fast divorce to move on with your life. So, you file for an uncontested divorce. However, your soon-to-be ex may become spiteful, uncooperative, or combative during negotiations. At that point, the divorce suddenly becomes contested, despite your best intentions.
Those scenarios naturally take longer to resolve, though bringing in legal counsel can straighten many stubborn situations out in a hurry.
Divorce costs can vary from case to case, and it is difficult to put an estimate on any particular case. Including filing fees, court costs, and bills for attorneys, the average American divorce costs $15,500 per person. In Maryland, the number is similar – about $14,000 per person, according to a survey.
At its most basic, actually filing for divorce in Maryland usually costs about $200, though the cost varies a little from county to county. Court fees change depending on your needs, but it isn’t unusual to pay a few hundred dollars to the court. The rest of the money typically goes to legal counsel to make sure your fresh start isn't tainted by a bad divorce decree.
The best way to save money in a divorce in general is to stay out of court as much as possible. As a rule, the more time you’re before a judge, the more money you will have to pay – whether or not you’ve hired a divorce attorney.
Custody can be “joint,” which means shared between the parents.
Custody can also be declared “sole.” In sole custody situations, only one parent having custody while the other may offer advice or see the child during visitation.
“Split” custody is also an option. In a split custody decision, both parents gain full custody of some of their children but do not share custody of other children.
During an uncontested divorce, custody may be decided by the parties on their own outside of court. The mutual decision is then brought before a judge, who decides whether the agreement is in the children’s “best interest,” per Maryland law.
However, if a satisfactory custody arrangement cannot be made by the spouses outside of court, a judge will decide instead.
In Maryland divorces, the parties can either decide how they will divide assets themselves, or a judge can decide for them.
Maryland is not a “community property” state. That is, property gained during a marriage is not automatically equally owned by both spouses. Instead, each party can claim property that is theirs out of “fairness” – with corresponding documents as proof – or leave it to the court to decide.
For example, each party’s workplace 401k may be listed as assets on the initial filing form. Even if these accounts started during the marriage, their holdings are not necessarily split 50-50.
Still, the judge can rule that property gained during the marriage should be divided equally, especially if no party can present adequate evidence proving that their division is “fair.”
Calling a trusted attorney is the first step to completing a quick, fair divorce. Though the information in this blog post may be confusing or even overwhelming, expert attorneys can help you navigate the many options available to you for the best possible outcome.