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!
What forms need to be filed to start Maryland divorce proceedings?
The paperwork required to open a divorce case varies from person to person. That said, everyone must fill out two forms:
The Complaint for Absolute Divorce (for the party who is filing) or the Counter-Complaint for Absolute Divorce (for the party responding to the complaint); and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Physical custody, which says where the child lives; and
Legal custody, which says which parent is allowed to make major decisions on behalf of the child while they’re growing up.
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.
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.