Starting Oct. 1, 2023, Maryland’s divorce laws are changing. Some of these changes might seem complex and confusing at first glance. They may even seem intimidating. But don’t worry; we’re here to decode them, break them into understandable chunks, and help you understand what they mean.
This blog is designed to arm you with the information you need, delivered in a way that’s easy to understand. Our Maryland divorce lawyers can help you make sense of these changes, and together, we can guide you toward a brighter future. Stay tuned for insights, advice, and guidance to understand the 2023 changes to Maryland’s divorce laws.
No More ‘Limited Divorce’
If you’re familiar with Maryland’s divorce laws, you have heard of a term called “limited divorce.” This was a unique concept, a halfway point of sorts, where couples could live separately and negotiate important matters like property division, child custody, and alimony without officially dissolving their marriage. Essentially, it was the closest thing Maryland had to a legal separation.
However, starting Oct. 1, 2023, the concept of limited divorce will be no more.
You might be asking why lawmakers would remove an option that provided a safe, intermediary step for couples contemplating divorce. Basically, this change acknowledges the fact that limited divorces often created more confusion than clarity. It left couples in a prolonged state of uncertainty, inhibiting their ability to move forward with their lives.
Under the new laws, a limited divorce option is no longer an option, streamlining the process and making it less confusing. Now, when couples file for divorce, they will move directly toward an “absolute divorce” — the dissolution of the marriage — while still having the chance to negotiate important matters.
No More Fault-Based Divorces
Another transformative change that the new Maryland divorce laws bring is the elimination of fault-based grounds for divorce. (“Grounds” is the legal term for reasons why courts can grant a divorce.) In the past, the divorce process often involved a painful examination of marital misconduct, such as adultery, desertion, or cruelty. The spouse seeking a divorce was required to provide evidence of their partner’s misconduct, which often added to the emotional distress of an already challenging situation.
Beginning Oct. 1, Maryland is bidding farewell to these fault-based grounds for divorce. Why, you may wonder? Because focusing on blame often amplified conflict and heartache. It’s a move towards compassion, towards understanding that sometimes, despite our best efforts, relationships end.
In place of fault-based grounds, there are three grounds Maryland couples can use as justification for a divorce, which are:
- 6-month separation: If the couple has lived “separate and apart” for six continuous months, they can file for divorce without further justification. Crucially, living separate and apart does not mean spouses must live in different homes before filing for divorce, which was a requirement under Maryland’s old laws. Starting Oct. 1, couples who share the same house can still pursue a divorce if they’ve “pursued separate lives” for six months.
- Mutual consent: If both spouses mutually agree to get a divorce, they can ask for one without having to wait for months before the courts will grant their request. Before the courts grant a divorce based on mutual consent, though, the couple must provide a written statement addressing any issues related to the division of shared marital property, alimony, child support, child custody, and visitation time. The courts must approve this document and make sure its terms are in the best interest of any minor or dependent children before they can approve a divorce.
- Irreconcilable differences: “Irreconcilable differences” is a catch-all term that means a couple has grown so far apart that there’s no way to save the marriage. This reason for a divorce does not necessarily require one spouse to prove the other is at fault for the divorce, but the courts will consider things like adultery and other factors that may have contributed to the divorce. Those factors can still significantly impact issues such as alimony, child support, and the division of shared assets.
Our Maryland Divorce Lawyers Can Help With These New Laws
While the changes to Maryland’s divorce laws will hopefully make the process smoother and faster for couples statewide, we advise anyone seeking a divorce to hire an experienced and compassionate attorney. Our Bethesda divorce lawyers can explain the terms of these new laws, file the necessary paperwork, and protect your interests concerning child support, alimony, and related matters. Call (301) 417-9222 today or reach out online for a consultation.