Area of Law:
Divorce may be defined as the legal termination of a marriage. Married couples do not have a legal or a constitutional right to seek a divorce, but states like Maryland commonly grant divorces because to force a couple to stay married would be against public policy.
Maryland allows for both limited and absolute divorces. A limited divorce is not permanent, but it legalizes the separation of the spouses and allows for support. An absolute divorce is permanent and terminates the marriage. The state of Maryland does not require a couple to get a limited divorce before a permanent one. For a comprehensive explanation of divorce law in the state of Maryland, go to lawyers.com.
"No-fault" and "fault" are the two types of grounds, or justifications, for divorce in the United States. In some states, no-fault is the only acceptable justification for a divorce, even if fault grounds exist within the marriage. Other states, including Maryland, allow the parties to choose either a no-fault or a fault divorce.
The state of Maryland requires anyone who is seeking a divorce to give an acceptable reason explaining why it should be granted. For a limited divorce, acceptable grounds include cruelty to spouse or minor child, excessively vicious conduct, desertion, and voluntary separation. The required grounds for a permanent divorce are adultery, desertion, voluntary separation, criminal conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, two-year separation, and insanity.
The United States first adopted the concept of a no-fault divorce in the late 1960's, and nearly all of the states currently allow for some form of it. A no-fault divorce is one in which the parties do not legally fault, or blame, one another for the divorce. No-fault grounds for divorce in Maryland include a two-year or voluntary 12-month separation, and limited divorce for cruelty, vicious conduct, separation, or desertion.
Many states require a "cooling-off" period of separation for a certain period of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can commence. During this time, the couple is required to live separate and apart with the intent that the separation will become permanent. The duration of the cooling-off period varies according to state law. In Maryland, the cooling-off period is 12 months.
Some states also allow fault grounds for divorce. Common fault grounds include cruelty, desertion, adultery, prison confinement, habitual intemperance (drunkenness or drug addiction), and impotency. Acceptable fault grounds for divorce in Maryland include adultery, desertion for 12 months without interruption, three year confinement for insanity, conviction of a crime when the corresponding sentence is a minimum of three years and 12 months have been served, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, and voluntary separation grounds for a limited divorce.
There are several “defenses,” or denials, that are sometimes used with regards to fault divorces. In Maryland, these may include condonation and recrimination. The condonation defense is sometimes used when a party condoned a certain spousal behavior during the marriage and then later attempts to use it as fault grounds for divorce. Recrimination means that both spouses are guilty of wrongdoing, such as adultery. These defenses are not used often, perhaps because they require witnesses and additional court time, which is expensive and can drag out the divorce. They are not an absolute bar to divorce in Maryland, even if sufficient proof is presented.
Divorce laws differ widely across the United States. The American Bar Association provides a variety of information regarding divorce requirements state by state on their Section of Family Law website. A chart comparing all 50 states, including Maryland, can be found at abanet.org.
*You can see an example of what a Maryland Divorce Settlement Agreement looks like on Free Legal Aid.