The process of getting a divorce case started can be tricky, especially for those with no legal background or experience with the court system. This article covers the basics of filing for divorce in Maryland.
If you have specific divorce-related questions or your case is complicated, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
In Maryland, a person can obtain an “absolute divorce” or a “limited divorce.” The same issues are addressed—custody and support of children, alimony, division of debt and assets. The key difference between these two processes is that at the conclusion of a limited divorce, the couple is still legally married. In other states, the same process is called a legal separation. An absolute divorce is what is called a divorce in other states, and at the end of this process, in addition to dealing with the custody of the children and the other related issues, as stated above, the court has ended the marriage.
The spouse who files for divorce (asks for the divorce) is the “plaintiff,” and the other spouse is the “defendant.”
At least one spouse must be a Maryland resident for at least one year prior to the filing of the divorce.
Maryland law requires the divorcing couple to live apart for at least 12 months before filing for divorce. Otherwise, the plaintiff must show that there are “fault grounds” for the divorce. This means that the plaintiff must prove his or her spouse did something that caused the breakup of the marriage.
The law is very specific as to what sorts of conduct may provide fault grounds for divorce. In Maryland, the fault grounds include adultery, insanity and commitment to a mental institution, cruelty, or vicious conduct. Folks who want to file for a fault divorce should consult with a licensed Maryland attorney to determine whether their grounds are sufficient.
To begin the divorce process, the plaintiff completes a “Complaint for Absolute Divorce” form and the “Civil Domestic Case Information Report.” These forms are available online at the judicial branch website, www.mdcourts.gov/.
The plaintiff spouse needs to file these papers in the circuit court that covers his or her county. Maryland has eight circuit courts, with each court covering one or more counties. The state judicial branch website also has links to all of the circuit court websites. At the time of filing, the plaintiff must either pay a filing fee to the court or request a fee waiver.
Once the complaint has been filed with the court, the court clerk will issue a
“Writ of Summons” along with a copy of the complaint. These two documents must be “served” on the defendant spouse.
“Service of process” means that the other spouse receives copies of the divorce paperwork so he or she will have formal notice that the divorce has been filed in the courts. Under Maryland law, the defendant may be served by receiving a copy of the complaint and the writ of summons from:
Once service is completed, the plaintiff should receive proof of service from the server, be it the sheriff, a private process server, the third party or the U.S. Postal Service’s receipt (the green card.) This proof, which is in the form of an affidavit, will show that the defendant was properly served. The court website contains fill-in forms for this purpose.
The defendant should file an “Answer” to the divorce complaint, which will allow the defendant to admit or deny the statements contained in the divorce complaint. If the defendant lives in Maryland, he or she has 30 days to file an answer; the out-of-state defendant has 60 days, and the defendant who is out of the country has up to 90 days to file an answer.
The defendant may also file a “Counter Complaint for Absolute Divorce.” Unlike the answer, the counter complaint allows the defendant to state grounds different than what the plaintiff wrote in the initial complaint. The answer and/or counter complaint may be mailed to the plaintiff; no formal service is required.
Both spouses must complete financial statements, which include information about each party’s individual assets, liabilities, income and expenses as well as any joint property and debts.
If either side requests child support and/or alimony from the other, the judge will rely on the information in these statements to make an order. Therefore it is very important that the financial information be as accurate as possible.
Learn more about the divorce process, division of marital property and debt, child custody and visitation, alimony, and more in our section on Maryland Divorce and Family Law.
The state judicial website at www.mdcourts.gov/ has a tab labeled “for citizens,” where there is a link for “custody and other family issues.” The user is redirected to the department of family administration where the family law forms can be accessed.
In addition to the state judicial branch, every circuit court has its own website. From the judicial branch’s home page at www.mdcourts.gov/ go to the circuit court tab and click on the locations/clerk’s offices link to connect with each circuit court’s individual websites.
The People’s Law Library of Maryland contains FAQ’s, hotline phone numbers and detailed explanations for the self- represented. The website can be found at www.peoples-law.org .