Area of Law:
Filing for divorce is never an easy decision. To begin a divorce proceeding in Maryland, a spouse files a complaint for divorce with the circuit court’s clerk. File the divorce complaint at the court located in the county where you or your spouse lives. The spouse filing the complaint is the petitioner and the other spouse is the respondent. In addition, after the petitioner files the divorce complaint, the petitioner must serve a copy of the complaint on the respondent. Family law forms are available at Maryland’s Judiciary website http://www.courts.state.md.us/family/forms/index.html.
Unlike other states, the state of Maryland recognizes two kinds of divorces. Spouses can file for an absolute divorce or a limited divorce. An absolute divorce is permanent and legally ends the marriage. To file for an absolute divorce in Maryland, you must live separately from your spouse for at least one year before filing the divorce complaint. In addition, Maryland offers a limited divorce. A limited divorce is similar to a legal separation and if the spouses have not lived separately, filing for limited divorce may be the first step for a spouse to seek an absolute divorce.
When you file the divorce complaint, you will be required to pay a filing fee. The filing fee for a divorce complaint differs in each county in Maryland. As of 2011, the filing fees range from $80 to $150. However, your local circuit court clerk will be able to give you an accurate filing fee for your county. If you find it financially difficult to file for divorce, visit the family support services coordinator's website http://www.courts.state.md.us/family/pdfs/coordinatorsliaisons.pdf to contact a coordinator in your circuit to assist you in easing the cost of a divorce.
One of the issues that may arise during a Maryland divorce proceeding is the division of marital assets. Marital assets are property jointly held by both spouses and acquired during the marriage. However, marital property does not include separate property. Separate property is property belonging to one spouse, owned either prior to marriage or acquired by gift or bequest during the marriage. The Maryland court follows equitable distribution when determining how to divide marital assets in a divorce. However, equitable distribution does not mean that the court will divide martial property equally. In reality, equitable distribution allows the court to divide marital property in the way the court views as being just. When dividing marital property, the court considers several factors including the length of the marriage and the property’s current use. In addition, the court distributes all debts according to whether the debts are personal debts or marital debts. For example, any debts acquired after the date of separation will be personal debts.
If you and your spouse can agree about the division of the marital property, consider drafting a marital settlement agreement. In Maryland, the court does not need to approve the marital settlement agreement for it to become effective. However, agreeing on settlement terms is often the hardest part of a divorce proceeding. Therefore, the court may recommend both spouses attend mediation to try to resolve any contested issues.