In the past, a couple could divorce only if one of them could prove that the other was at fault (for example, because the other spouse committed adultery or deserted the marriage). These days, many states have done away with fault grounds for divorce entirely, recognizing only no-fault divorce. Maryland is not one of them, however: In Maryland, a couple can divorce on fault or no-fault grounds.
Below, you'll find answers to frequently asked questions about getting a divorce in Maryland. For more information on Maryland family law, see our Maryland Divorce and Family Law page. For more articles on divorce, see The Divorce Process.
Is there a waiting period to get a divorce in Maryland?
In order to obtain an "absolute" divorce (the legal term for a real and final divorce) in Maryland, the spouses must meet one of the legal criteria (grounds) for divorce. If a couple is divorcing on no-fault grounds, they must have been living apart for at least a year without interruption. Rather than waiting a year before filing, however, some spouses file for a "limited divorce," a holdover from yesteryear which today serves two functions: getting temporary support and getting in line for an absolute divorce.
Are "irreconcilable differences" grounds for divorce?
Not exactly. Maryland law nowhere lists "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for divorce. To get a no-fault divorce, the law formerly required the filing spouse to claim not only that the couple had been living separately for at least a year without interruption, but also that there was no reasonable possibility of reconciliation. However, this second part of the test was deleted. Now, it's sufficient for a spouse to claim that the couple has been living apart for a year.
Is a no-fault divorce possible?
Yes. As noted above, if a couple has been living separately for at least a year, either spouse can file for divorce.
What are the fault grounds for divorce?
The fault grounds are: adultery, desertion, conviction of certain crimes, insanity, cruelty, and excessively vicious conduct.
What evidence is needed to prove adultery?
Maryland courts recognize that it is rarely possible to prove adultery through the testimony of eyewitnesses. But there is no need to catch a philandering spouse in the act. A spouse can prove adultery through circumstantial evidence, by showing that (1) the alleged adulterer and his or her paramour were inclined to commit adultery, and (2) they had an opportunity to do so.
What is desertion?
As a ground for divorce, desertion occurs when:
- one spouse has been gone for 12 months, without interruption, before the other filed for divorce
- the desertion was deliberate and final, and
- there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
What does "without cohabitation" mean?
To get a no-fault divorce based on separation, a couple must have lived apart, "without cohabitation," for at least a year. Essentially, this means that the spouses are no longer having sexual relations with each other.
When is someone legally justified in leaving a marriage?
If a person is legally justified in leaving a marriage, that person is not "at fault" for desertion. Indeed, the other spouse (the one who was left behind) may be at fault for constructive desertion, essentially acting in such a way that the other spouse felt compelled to leave. Maryland courts have defined constructive desertion as conduct by one spouse that makes continuing the marriage a threat to the other's health, self-respect, or reasonable comfort. To qualify as constructive desertion, the offending spouse must engage in a pattern of persistent conduct that is detrimental to the other spouse's safety or health, or so harmful to the other spouse's self-respect as to be intolerable.
In a constructive desertion case, it is the spouse who leaves who claims that the spouse who stayed was at fault for the divorce.
What kind of conduct constitutes cruelty or excessively vicious conduct?
Cruelty encompasses mental as well as physical abuse. Verbal and physical abuse may have been tolerated in another era, but today evidence of controlling behavior, isolation from friends or family, taunting, violence and threats of violence, or other misconduct which is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other spouse, will justify an absolute divorce on grounds of cruelty or excessively vicious conduct.