Getting a divorce in Maryland is now faster, and less burdensome

Among new laws that went into effect in Maryland on Oct. 1 is one that streamlines the state’s notoriously lengthy and sometimes contentious divorce process.

One of the biggest changes is eliminating the at-fault requirement for a spouse filing for divorce, with Maryland joining the majority of other states with no-fault divorce. It eliminates six long-standing grounds needed for divorce in Maryland, including adultery, desertion, criminal convictions, insanity, cruelty and a mandatory 12-month separation period.

That eases the sometimes emotionally-charged process of filing for divorce in Maryland.

“By repealing default grounds for divorce, the Maryland Legislature has taken the step forward to turn the temperature down a notch, and permit couples to start moving on without the time and expense of having to show who was at fault,” said Rama Taib-Lopez, an attorney in the family law practice at Rockville-based Stein Sperling.

It also eliminates the legally challenging process of proving wrongdoing.

Replacing a mandatory one-year separation before a divorce can be granted with a six-month separation reduces financial stress for couples. And, under the new law, “separation” no longer requires living in separate homes.

“You could be living under the same roof and still file for divorce on the grounds of separation if you can show the court that you and your spouse have simply pursued separate lives,” Taib-Lopez said.

But the legislation leaves one requirement for separation under the new law vague.

“We don’t know how the court is going to define ‘pursuing separate lives.’ So, divorce attorneys are going to following carefully the cases that start working through the courts to see how the courts apply the new standard,” she said.

The Maryland divorce law now has just two grounds for divorce; the six-month separation and irreconcilable differences.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the law on April 7, which was signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore on May 16.

It also eliminates “limited divorce,” which had allowed for court supervision overseeing matters such as child custody, child support, alimony and use of property until couples of could file for an absolute divorce.

Mutual consent of the parties remains a prerequisite for divorce in Maryland.

While no-fault grounds eliminates burden of proof for at-fault, spouses are still able to enter fault should custody, child care or alimony be challenged in court.

The D.C. divorce law has just two grounds for divorce, both of which are no-fault grounds. In Virginia, there’s one no-fault grounds for divorce, with a number of fault-grounds for divorce, including desertion, cruelty, adultery and felonies.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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