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How Is Legal Separation Different from Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

Getting a divorce in Maryland can be a lengthy and complex process, so many couples choose to untangle their lives in stages. A legal separation, known as a limited divorce in Maryland, can start the divorce process and give both spouses some breathing room while they finalize the terms of their absolute divorce. However, if you pursue a legal separation from your spouse, it’s good to know what’s involved and what your next steps are.

Legal Separation/Limited Divorce vs. Absolute Divorce

Maryland law doesn’t recognize the term “legal separation.” Instead, the state uses the term “limited divorce” to describe what most people think of as a legal separation.

The critical difference between a limited and absolute divorce in Maryland is that a limited divorce does not end your marriage, even though it’s called a divorce. Under Maryland law, the legal grounds for a limited divorce in Maryland are:

  • Voluntary separation for 12 months or longer without sexual relations
  • Desertion
  • Cruel treatment or vicious conduct from one spouse toward the other spouse or a child

In an absolute divorce, a court order ends your marriage. It’s possible to obtain an absolute divorce without going through a limited divorce first, provided you meet certain conditions.

Maryland recognizes the following reasons as grounds for an absolute divorce:

  • Mutual consent, provided the couples have a written agreement addressing issues like child custody, the division of shared property, alimony, etc.
  • Adultery
  • Desertion for 12 months or longer when the desertion is deliberate, intended to be final, and reconciliation is not reasonably likely
  • Your spouse being convicted of a crime in any United States court with a sentence of at least three years, provided the spouse has served at least one year
  • Incurable insanity if the insane spouse has been confined in an institution for three years before the other spouse filed for divorce, and one of the parties resided in Maryland for two years before filing
  • Voluntary separation for 12 months or longer without sexual relations
  • Cruel treatment or excessively vicious treatment toward the complaining spouse or a minor child and there is no reconciliation likely

How to File for Divorce in Maryland

Starting the divorce process is easy enough, though it’s still a smart idea to have an attorney review any agreements and take care of the paperwork. You can file for divorce by submitting a Complaint for Absolute Divorce or a Complaint for Limited Divorce to your local family court. After you submit the forms, you must serve the complaint to your spouse, who has the opportunity to respond to the complaint.

If you’re pursuing a limited divorce, you’ll remain married while you and your spouse work out all the terms of your divorce. The courts generally will not grant an absolute divorce without a Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property, along with a written parenting plan if you and your spouse have children under 18. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of an absolute divorce, the courts may order you both to meet with a mediator. If mediation does not work, you’ll need to attend hearings to address issues like the division of marital property, child custody and support payments, and alimony.

Our Bethesda Divorce Lawyers Can Simplify Your Life

Getting divorced is an emotional, exhausting experience, and your divorce may not be finalized for several months or years. The Bethesda divorce attorneys at The McKeon Law Firm could help you through this challenging time. We’ll keep you informed at every step, but we’ll deal with the court hearings and the paperwork while you focus on taking care of yourself. Call us today at (301) 417-9222 or visit our contact page for an appointment to speak with one of our compassionate attorneys.

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