Divorce has become a fairly common event. Statistics suggest that nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. With that in mind, we thought it may be helpful to briefly describe how the divorce process works in Maryland. One thing to always keep in mind is that divorce is neither easy nor quick in Maryland. Therefore, avoid it if at all possible.
A permanent and final divorce in Maryland is called an “absolute divorce.” To obtain an absolute divorce, a person must have “grounds” for a divorce. Grounds are simply conditions that must be met in order to receive a divorce. The grounds that currently entitle a person to an absolute divorce in Maryland are:
- One Year Mutual and Voluntary Separation – Husband and wife must live “separate and apart” for one year without interruption and agree to end the marriage. “Separate and apart” means they must not live under the same roof and they must not have physical relations.
- Two Year Involuntary Separation– Husband and wife must live separate and apart for two years without interruption. This does not require the couple to agree to end the marriage. [UPDATE: The Legislature, effective October 1, 2011, revised the 2-year statutory separation to a 1-year statutory separation.]
- Adultery – A spouse has sexual relations with someone other than his/her spouse.
- Desertion – One spouse leaves the other for one full year without legal cause. This can be actual desertion (spouse leaves without reason) or constructive desertion (one spouse is forced to leave by the behavior of the other).
- Cruelty and Excessively Vicious Conduct – This newly added ground for absolute divorce assists spouses in escaping domestic violence.
- Conviction of a Felony or Misdemeanor – A spouse is convicted of a crime and is incarcerated for one year under a sentence of three or more years.
- Insanity – A spouse is confined to a mental institution for at least three years.
If the grounds for divorce cannot be proven, then an absolute divorce will not be granted. Even if the couple agrees to get a divorce, they still must prove that they have satisfied the conditions. This is usually done by providing a corroborating witness. A corroborating witness is someone other than the spouses themselves who can verify that the couple has satisfied the conditions entitling them to a divorce. An example would be a friend or relative who has observed that one of the spouses has moved out.
Once a person has grounds for an absolute divorce, he or she needs to file a Complaint in circuit court. A Complaint is a legal document that states the grounds for divorce and the vital statistics of the couple and the marriage. The Complaint also includes those things that the person seeking the divorce wants (child custody, visitation, alimony, property division, etc.).
After the Complaint is filed against the person’s spouse, that spouse must file an Answer to the Complaint. An Answer is a legal document which admits or denies any or all grounds included in the Complaint. A process called Discovery usually follows. During this process, each spouse requests specific information and documentation from the other in the form of written questions known as Interrogatories, Requests for Admissions and Requests for Production of Documents. Face-to-face questions may be asked of each spouse by the other spouse’s attorney before a court reporter during what is called a Deposition.
The next part of the divorce process is the settlement process. During this process, the couple attempts to work out an Agreement, usually called a proposed Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. The Agreement works out the majority of the divorce details, like who gets custody of the children, who gets the car, who gets the house, etc. If they can work out an Agreement, then the couple can avoid an expensive and long trial process. Divorces usually settle in the beginning when both spouses feel guilty or in the end when they are both exhausted.
If the couple cannot work out an Agreement, then they continue to trial before a Judge or a Master. A Master is a person appointed by the Court to oversee certain types of cases in order to reduce the workload of the judges. During the trial, both the husband and the wife will present testimony in support of their position. Depending on the issues and assets involved, experts may be used by either or both the husband and wife to support their position. The Judge or Master then makes a decision whether or not to grant the divorce and on what grounds. The Judge or Master also decides who gets custody of the children, who pays the attorney’s fees, who gets alimony, and many other details which need to be resolved in order to end the marriage. The decision is then turned into an Order of Divorce which legally divorces the couple. That’s the entire basic process.