A new law was recently passed in the Maryland General Assembly making a change in the grounds for divorce. Maryland had two “no-fault” grounds for an absolute divorce: a mutual and voluntary separation of one year, or a separation of two years. As of October 1, 2011, the new law eliminates voluntary separation as a ground for absolute divorce. Instead, the parties now must only be continuously separated for one year. You no longer have to prove that you have agreed to the separation and that it was mutual and voluntary, which was a requirement under the old law.
A spouse now doesn’t have to wait as long for a divorce, whether or not they have an agreement with their spouse to get divorced. If you want a divorce, simply separate from your spouse for one year. Maryland does requires that there be no sexual relations during the one year separation and that they live in separate residences for the entire year. In Virginia and DC, parties are allowed to separate but to live under the same roof while separated.
The new law does not affect the other possible causes for divorce. Couples can still obtain a divorce on the fault grounds of cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, adultery and desertion even if the parties are living together under the same roof.
This change took place on October 1, 2011, when the Governor signed the Senate Bill 139 into law, amending Section 7-103 of the Family Law Article of the Maryland Code.
In the past, clients who were thinking about divorce, and had no grounds or an agreement to separate, often would be held up for two years before being able to divorce. With the new ground, this lack of a fault ground or lack of an agreement to separate is no longer stands in their way. The courts will usually not schedule a contested divorce case until after the parties have been separated for a year, and even a client who is “at fault” can now easily proceed with a divorce.
The law also did not change the grounds for a limited divorce (what many think of as a legal separation). These remain:
- Excessively Vicious Conduct
- Voluntary Separation
- Cruelty of Treatment.
A Limited Divorce can be seen as a head start in the divorce proceedings. This is often requested in initial pleadings, with the intent of amending the pleadings shortly before trial to request an Absolute Divorce. In these cases, a fault ground or voluntary separation must still be alleged in the initial filings even if the intent is to later amend to a one year non fault ground.