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Know the Laws: Maryland

UPDATED August 9, 2017

Basic information about divorce in Maryland.

back to topWhat are the residency requirements for divorce in Maryland?

You can file for divorce in Maryland if you or your spouse is a Maryland resident.*  If the reason for your divorce happened outside of Maryland, you can only apply for a divorce in Maryland if you or your spouse has lived in Maryland for at least six months before you file.**

* MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. § 6–202
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-101

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back to topWhat types of divorce are available in Maryland?

There are two types of divorce available in Maryland – absolute divorce and limited divorce.  An absolute divorce ends the marriage and allows a judge to make a decision about issues related to the end of your marriage (property division, spousal support, custody, etc.).  A limited divorce allows the judge to make decisions about these issues but does not legally end the marriage.*

* Maryland Courts website

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back to topWhat are the grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland?

If you and your spouse do not have any children in common, you can agree to a divorce and provide the judge with a settlement agreement that addresses all of the issues between you two including alimony and division of property.*  See Can I get an absolute divorce if my spouse agrees to the divorce? to read more about divorce by mutual consent.  You can also request a divorce based on certain fault-based grounds.  Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. 

The judge may award you an absolute divorce if before you file for divorce, your spouse:

  • cheats on you (adultery);
  • deserts you for 12 months without interruption. The desertion must be deliberate (intentional) and final with no expectation of reconciliation (getting back together);
  • is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in any state or U.S. court. Your spouse must also be sentenced to serve at least 3 years (or an “indeterminate sentence”) and have served twelve months of that sentence;
  • separates from you, meaning that you and your spouse live separate and apart for twelve months without interruption (without “co-habitation”) and without a sexual relationship;
  • has been confined in a mental institution, hospital, or other institution for at least three years because of insanity. The judge must hear two doctors testify that the insanity is incurable, and there is no hope of recovery. Also, either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Maryland for at least two years before filing for divorce based on insanity.;
  • is cruel towards you or your minor child (and there is no expectation that you and your spouse will reconcile);
  • displays excessively vicious behavior towards you or your minor child (and there is no expectation that you and your spouse will reconcile).**

If your spouse claims that you did one of the above things as well (“recrimination”), the judge may still grant you an absolute divorce.  However, if you also cheated on your spouse, s/he can use your actions as a defense to your divorce claim.  The judge can also consider if you allowed or forgave your spouse’s cheating (“condonation”).***

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-103(a)(8)
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-103(a)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-103(b),(d)

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back to topCan I get an absolute divorce if my spouse agrees to the divorce?

Yes, in Maryland, the judge can grant you a divorce if your spouse agrees to the divorce (also called “mutual consent”).  To divorce based on mutual consent, you and your spouse:

  • must both agree that you want a divorce;
  • cannot have a child under 18 years old together;
  • must sign a written settlement agreement where you agree on alimony (spousal support) and division of your property;
  • cannot file any paperwork to set aside the settlement agreement; and
  • must both go to court for your hearing for an absolute divorce.*

If you and your spouse meet these conditions, then the judge can adopt your settlement agreement into the divorce order and modify or enforce your settlement agreement in the future.**

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-103(a)(8)
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-103(f)

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back to topWhat are the grounds for a limited divorce in Maryland?

If you want an absolute divorce but do not meet one of the grounds to file for one (or you do not want an absolute divorce for some other reason), the judge can grant you a limited divorce.  The judge may grant you a limited divorce for a limited or indefinite amount of time.*  The judge can revoke (take back) the divorce order at any time if you and your spouse both agree to that.**  A judge can grant you a limited divorce if your spouse:

  • was cruel to you or your minor child;
  • was excessively vicious to you or your minor child;
  • deserts you; or
  • separates from you, meaning that you and your spouse live separate and apart without cohabitation and without a sexual relationship.***

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-102(b)
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-102(c)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law § 7-102(a)

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back to topCan I get alimony?

Alimony is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse.  The judge will decide how much and for how long you will get alimony.  If you are granted alimony, the judge may order your spouse to start the alimony payments from the date you filed for alimony even if some time has passed since then.*

The judge decides if s/he will award you alimony based on several factors, including:

  • your ability to support yourself;
  • the time you would need to get the necessary education or training to find a job;
  • the standard of living during your marriage;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • the contributions of you and your spouse (financial and other) to the well-being of your family;
  • the circumstances that led to your divorce;
  • the age of you and your spouse;
  • the physical and mental condition of you and your spouse;
  • your spouse’s ability to meet her/his needs while paying you alimony;
  • any agreement between you and your spouse;
  • the financial needs and resources of you and your spouse, including all income and assets, any property award, financial responsibilities, and retirement benefits; and
  • if your spouse is in a hospital and paying you alimony would cause him/her to become eligible for medical assistance earlier than if s/he were not ordered to pay you alimony.**

A judge may award you alimony for an indefinite period of time if:

  • because of your age, illness, or disability, you will not be able to support yourself; or
  • your and your spouse’s lifestyles will still be unconscionably (unreasonably) different even if you can support yourself.***

* MD Code, Fam. Law, § 11-106(a)(1),(2)
** MD Code, Fam. Law, § 11-106(b)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law, § 11-106(c)

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back to topWhat are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:

  • First, you must meet the residency requirements of the state in which you wish to file.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse.
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, he will then have the opportunity to file papers telling his side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” In this case, you will have to attend a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, he should sign the papers and send them back to you and/or the court. This is called an “uncontested divorce.” If a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. You should speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers the divorce papers before you can continue with the divorce.
  • Fifth, if there is property that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, you will have to work that out in an out-of-court settlement, or in a series of court hearings. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.

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back to topWhere can I find additional information about divorce laws in Maryland?

The Maryland Judiciary provides the following information regarding divorce:

Maryland Legal Aid also has a brochure discussing the basics of absolute and limited divorce in Maryland.

The Maryland State Bar Association has information on divorce and alimony, including a list of grounds for divorce.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites.  We provide these links for your information only.

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