A divorce legally separates your life from that of your spouse. Maryland has strict requirements to qualify for an absolute divorce, but you can also ask for a limited divorce. A limited divorce settles many of the same issues, but it does not allow you to remarry.
Filing For Divorce Without an Attorney
The legal forms you need to file for divorce are freely available on the state court's website. You do not have to retain a lawyer to file them. If your spouse contests the divorce, however, or if you cannot agree on important issues, you should consider hiring a lawyer to protect your interests.
Starting the Divorce Process in Maryland
Your first step is to file a Complaint for Absolute Divorce in the county where you live, or where your spouse lives or works. You must indicate in your complaint what you are asking the court to decide. These issues may include:
- Custody or visitation with your children
- Child support
- Health insurance
- Your share of the marital property
You will generally forfeit your right to anything you do not ask for in this filing, so it is important to make sure it is complete.
Depending on your situation, you may need to file additional forms, such as a property settlement agreement or a financial statement.
After you file your complaint, you must have a copy served on your spouse. If your spouse does not file an answer within a specified period of time, you can file a Request for Order of Default to continue with the proceedings anyway.
If you do not meet the state's strict requirements for an absolute divorce, you may file for a limited divorce. This allows you to legally separate many aspects of your lives, but you may not remarry. You may file for an absolute divorce later when and if you eventually meet the requirements.
Grounds For Divorce
Your complaint must give the court a reason for your divorce, but the reason does not necessarily have to be something your spouse did wrong. One option is to file based on separation for at least 12 months.
You may also allege fault on the part of your spouse:
- Felony conviction
In all cases, you must have separated from your spouse before filing. Some grounds require a waiting period after separation, but others, such as adultery, allow you to file right away.
Distributing Property and Debts
Maryland state law requires equitable distribution of marital property and debts before you can divorce. The court divides your property in a way a judge thinks is fair. This may or may not result in each spouse receiving an equal share. Before making a decision, the court considers many factors:
- The length of your marriage
- Each spouse's physical and mental health
- How each spouse contributed to the family's well-being
- Any reasons the marriage failed
The court may also consider any other information it believes to be relevant.
Finalizing the Divorce
Your divorce is completed when the court has filed the final judgment. How long it takes to get to this point depends on the circumstances of your case. Simple cases with little marital property and no children may take only a few weeks. If you and your spouse cannot agree on terms, especially if children are involved, your divorce can take more than a year.
How a Divorce Attorney Can Help
State laws concerning divorce can be hard to understand, and it is easy to overlook potential legal pitfalls. A lawyer can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible and can protect your interests.