Understanding the Process of Getting Divorced in Maryland
February 1, 2024 – Ellen L. Lee
Dissolving a marriage can be a difficult and emotional journey, filled with uncertainty and complex decisions. We understand that navigating this transition can be overwhelming, and we are here to provide clear guidance and unwavering support.
Fortunately, a new era of clarity and efficiency has arrived in Maryland’s divorce landscape. Senate Bill 36, which took effect on October 1, 2023, empowers you with three clear paths to achieve absolute divorce: six-month separation, irreconcilable differences, and mutual consent. These pathways offer greater control and options tailored to your unique circumstances, streamlining the process and providing a smoother path forward.
Whether you’re facing the possibility of divorce, are lost in the legalities, or simply seeking information, this blog will provide you with knowledge and understanding. Rockville divorce attorney Ellen L. Lee explains the process of getting divorced in Maryland, addressing crucial considerations like residency requirements, financial implications, and alternative dispute resolution options.
Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. We believe that even in the midst of difficult times, a divorce can be a path towards healing and moving forward to a brighter future. Contact us at (301) 279-0692 to schedule your confidential consultation. Let us be your guide and your advocate as you navigate this new chapter with confidence and clarity.
Residency Requirements Remain Unchanged
To file for divorce in Maryland, you or your spouse must have resided in the state for at least one year. If the grounds for divorce occurred outside Maryland, one of you needs to have lived here for at least six months before filing.
Divorce is No Longer a Blame Game
The new law eliminates fault-based grounds like adultery or cruelty. While these factors may still be considered in determining alimony or monetary awards, they no longer hold you back from filing for divorce. As of October 1, 2023, a Marylander may file for divorce on one of the following grounds:
1. 6-Month Separation
This straightforward option allows you to file for divorce after living separate and apart for six months without interruption. Even if you share a home, you can qualify if you “pursue separate lives,” maintaining distinct finances, social circles, and living arrangements. No need to wait a full year anymore.
2. Irreconcilable Differences
For those facing irreconcilable differences, meaning your marital issues seem irreparably broken, this new ground offers an alternative. While the law doesn’t provide a specific definition, examples could include incompatible lifestyles, religious or financial disagreements, or simply growing apart. Importantly, one spouse’s belief in irreconcilable differences is sufficient, even if the other doesn’t agree.
3. Mutual Consent
If you and your spouse can amicably agree to end your marriage and have already worked out all the details regarding property division, alimony, and child custody, then mutual consent remains a smooth path. Just remember to finalize a comprehensive written settlement agreement, and the court will readily grant your divorce.
The Divorce Process
When you decide to get a divorce in Maryland, you must follow specific legal procedures to ensure your divorce is valid and binding. This process involves filing legal documents, serving your spouse, and negotiating terms.
Filing for Divorce
You begin by filing a Complaint for Absolute Divorce or Complaint for Divorce (Restricted Information) with the Circuit Court in the county where you or your spouse live or work. In your complaint, you must state the ground(s) for your divorce and any additional relief you are seeking, such as child custody, child support, alimony, or property division. Maryland requires a filing fee, which you must pay unless you qualify for a fee waiver.
Service of Process
After filing, you need to serve your spouse with the divorce papers. This means delivering a copy of the complaint and a summons through a private process server, sheriff, or by certified mail with a return receipt. Service of process must comply with Maryland rules to give your spouse legal notice and an opportunity to respond.
Response and Negotiation
Your spouse has a set period, typically 30 days, to file an Answer to your Complaint for Divorce. In the Answer, your spouse may agree with or dispute the grounds for divorce and relief requested. The negotiation phase is crucial, as you and your spouse will attempt to settle disputes regarding assets, finances, and custody. If you’re able to agree, you may draft a Marital Settlement Agreement. If not, the court will schedule a hearing or trial to resolve the issues.
When navigating a divorce in Maryland, it’s essential to understand the financial implications, including the division of property, alimony, and child-related expenses.
Division of Property
Maryland follows an “equitable distribution” approach, meaning the court divides property based on what is fair, not necessarily equal. Assets and debts acquired during your marriage will be subject to division. Accurately value your assets, which may include:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Personal property
Important documents to gather:
- Home appraisals
- Bank statements
- Retirement account statements
Alimony and Spousal Support
Alimony might be awarded to ensure financial support for a spouse after divorce. Several factors affect alimony decisions, including:
- The duration of the marriage
- Each spouse’s financial circumstances
- Each spouse’s age and health
- Ability to become self-sufficient
To prepare for alimony considerations, you should:
- Collect financial records
- Understand your current living expenses
- Estimate future living costs
Child Support and Custody
Child support is determined by the “Maryland Child Support Guidelines,” which primarily consider the income of both parents and the needs of the children. Custody arrangements can also influence child support. Keep in mind:
- Joint physical custody may impact the support amount
- Extraordinary medical or educational expenses are also accounted for
Documentation to compile:
- Income statements
- Expense receipts for child care
- Medical bills for children
Make sure to consult with a financial advisor or divorce lawyer in Rockville to understand how these considerations apply to your specific situation.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
In Maryland, you have options for resolving divorce disputes outside of court. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can save time, reduce costs, and give you more control over the process.
Mediation is a voluntary process where you and your spouse work with a neutral third party, known as a mediator, to reach a settlement. The mediator facilitates discussion but does not make decisions for you. Instead, their role is to help you communicate effectively and consider every angle of your dispute. It’s important to note that mediators must be qualified under Maryland law, and their involvement does not eliminate the need for individual legal counsel.
Key Benefits of Mediation:
- Control: You maintain control over the outcome rather than a judge.
- Confidentiality: Discussions in mediation are private and not part of the public record.
- Cost: Generally less expensive than litigation.
Collaborative divorce is another form of ADR where you and your spouse each hire specially trained attorneys to work through issues collaboratively, without going to court. Other professionals, such as financial advisors or mental health experts, may join the process as needed.
Like mediation, the goal is to reach an agreement that meets the needs of both parties while minimizing conflict and the emotional toll on any children involved.
Remember, court orders can be modified due to significant changes (custody, income, etc.) and sometimes need enforcement (contempt, wage garnishment, property liens).
Navigating divorce can be emotionally challenging. Seek support from loved ones, professionals (counseling), and prioritize self-care. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Need Clarity About Your Maryland Divorce? Get Clear, Informed Guidance
Navigating a Maryland divorce can be challenging, filled with complex legal questions and emotional hurdles. At the Law Offices of Ellen L. Lee, we provide experienced, personalized legal counsel to help you navigate this process with confidence and clarity.
With over 35 years navigating the complexities of Maryland divorce, Ellen L. Lee brings wisdom and experience to your unique situation. She takes the time to truly understand your concerns and goals, tailoring her approach to achieve optimal outcomes for you. Unwavering in her commitment to your interests, she’ll guide you through every step of the process, ensuring clear communication and collaboration.
You’ll feel empowered by your understanding of your options and confident in her steadfast dedication to protecting your rights and maximizing your well-being. From convenient in-person, Zoom, and phone consultations to flexible scheduling options, Ellen prioritizes your needs throughout this challenging time.
Don’t face this challenge alone. Contact us at (301) 279-0692 or complete our online form to schedule your consultation with a compassionate Rockville, MD divorce attorney and take the first step towards a brighter future. Remember, you have options. We can help you find the best path forward.
Copyright © 2024. Law Offices of Ellen L. Lee, LLC. All rights reserved.
The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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