Major Changes to Divorce Law in Maryland
For years, Maryland has been one of the few States that did not offer a “no fault” ground for divorce. Instead, those individuals that filed for divorce had to choose between the following reasons for wanting that divorce: adultery (cheating/infidelity), desertion, incarceration, one year separation, insanity, cruelty of treatment to a spouse or child, excessively vicious conduct to a spouse or child, or mutual consent. Without too much imagination, it is easy to see how many of the grounds for divorce above can require the spouse pursuing a divorce to prove facts that can be emotional, embarrassing, hurtful, or traumatic.
However, a new law going into effect on October 1, 2023, has overhauled and simplified the grounds individuals need to prove to be issued a divorce. Now there are options for filing that have a lesser threshold to meet, thereby allowing for couples who want to be divorced to be able to more efficiently gain access to the court system and start the divorce process. The new grounds include:
(1) 6–MONTH SEPARATION, IF THE PARTIES HAVE LIVED SEPARATE 18 AND APART FOR 6 MONTHS WITHOUT INTERRUPTION BEFORE THE FILING OF THE APPLICATION FOR DIVORCE;
(2) IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES BASED ON THE REASONS STATED BY THE COMPLAINANT FOR THE PERMANENT TERMINATION OF THE MARRIAGE; and
Of note, the 6-month separation ground does not require that the parties seeking a divorce reside in separate residences.
The new ‘irreconcilable differences’ ground is expected to be helpful because it does not require the parties to be pitted against one another to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. It is an approach to divorce that 39 other states utilize. What practitioners – and judges – in Maryland do not know as of the date of this posting is what will presenting a case with ‘irreconcilable differences’ look like. Will evidence need to be presented? Will certain testimony be required?
Also worth considering is that the looming elimination of the traditional fault-based grounds does not mean that the Court will not consider the conduct of the parties when making decisions with respect to child custody, alimony, and the division of marital property. The statutes controlling those aspects of the law were not changed by the legislature.
Another significant feature of the legislation is the elimination of the ‘limited divorce’, which does not end the marriage but allows the complaining spouse to live separate and apart from the other.
As the new law takes effect, it will be more important than ever to work with an attorney who is educated on the changing divorce landscape. Our attorneys are available to meet with you to discuss how the change in law might impact your situation.