Grounds for Divorce in Maryland

Learn about the grounds for divorce in Maryland.

By , Retired Judge

What Kind of Divorce Are You Looking for?

Unlike many other states, Maryland offers two types of divorce: limited and absolute. The two concepts have common elements, but the ultimate outcomes are quite different.

Limited Divorce in Maryland

Truth be told, the term "limited divorce" is a bit of a misnomer. If you opt for a limited divorce, you'll still be married in the end. The reality is that a limited divorce is actually a formal separation, overseen by the court, which doesn't terminate the marriage.

The grounds for a limited divorce are:

  • cruel treatment by one spouse (defendant) toward the spouse filing the limited divorce complaint (plaintiff) or that spouse's minor child
  • excessively vicious conduct by the defendant toward the plaintiff or the plaintiff's minor child
  • desertion (basically, one spouse abandoning the other), and
  • separation, if the spouses are living separate and apart without cohabitation (having sexual relations).

In a limited divorce case, the court can make decisions about issues such as custody, parenting time (visitation), child support, spousal support (alimony), and use and possession of marital property. Also, the judge can control the length of time a limited divorce will remain in effect.

As an aside, note that there are various reasons why people might choose a limited divorce. For example, absolute divorce (dissolution of the marriage) may be against their religion. Or, perhaps they don't have the necessary grounds for absolute divorce. It may also be that they aren't ready to commit to an absolute divorce, but still need the court's help resolving certain marital issues.

Absolute Divorce in Maryland

Absolute divorce is the classic form of divorce people are most familiar with—it permanently dissolves the marriage. Maryland law provides more grounds for absolute divorce than for limited divorce, although there is an overlap.

Grounds for absolute divorce are:

  • adultery
  • desertion (with conditions)
  • conviction of a felony or misdemeanor in any state or in any court of the United States (with conditions)
  • living separate and apart, without having sexual relations, for 12 months without interruption before the divorce complaint is filed
  • insanity (with conditions)
  • cruel treatment toward the plaintiff or plaintiff's minor child, provided there's no reasonable expectation of the couple reconciling
  • excessively vicious conduct toward the plaintiff or plaintiff's minor child, provided there's no reasonable expectation of the couple reconciling, and
  • mutual consent of the spouses (with conditions).

For desertion to be valid, it must meet the following requirements:

  • it must continue for 12 months without interruption before either spouse files for divorce
  • it has to be deliberate and final, and
  • there must be no reasonable expectation of the couple reconciling.

Note that a court will likely not find that desertion exists where a spouse abandoned the marital home for a legitimate reason, such as to escape domestic violence.

For a court to uphold conviction of a crime as a ground for divorce, the defendant must have been sentenced to three or more years in jail and served 12 months of that sentence before the plaintiff files for divorce.

The ground of insanity requires that the insane spouse has been confined in a mental institution, hospital, or other similar institution for at least three years before the divorce complaint is filed, and the court has determined from the testimony of at least two physicians—who are competent in psychiatry—that the insanity is incurable and there's no hope of recovery.

Mutual consent is a viable basis for divorce if:

  • the spouses don't have any minor children in common
  • both spouses sign and submit to the court a written settlement agreement that resolves all issues relating to alimony and the distribution of their property
  • neither spouse files court papers to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the final divorce hearing, and
  • both spouses appear before the court at the divorce hearing.

Does Maryland Have No-Fault Grounds for Absolute Divorce?

Two of the grounds for divorce listed in the previous section don't require a spouse to be at fault (guilty of misconduct)—the 12-month separation provision and the mutual consent provision. But these are not the typical no-fault grounds you find in divorce today. As it turns out, Maryland is something of an outlier when it comes to no-fault divorce.

Traditional no-fault laws in most other states don't come with conditions like requiring a period of separation or restricting the grounds to people who have no minor children. In these other states, no-fault divorce is basically premised on the spouses no longer getting along, with no reasonable prospect of that situation changing. Some states call it the "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage," others "irreconcilable differences." But the bottom line is that, unlike in Maryland, this deterioration of the marriage—in and of itself—is a valid reason for divorce.

A Word About Residency Requirements for a Maryland Divorce

Maryland has residency requirements, under certain circumstances, before you can file for divorce. If the facts that make up the grounds for divorce (known as the "cause of action") didn't occur in Maryland, you have to reside in the state for six months before starting the divorce. To use insanity as the basis for divorce, one of the spouses must have been a Maryland resident for two years before the divorce can be filed. If both spouses reside in the state, and the cause of action occurred in the state, there's no waiting period.

If you're contemplating divorce, before taking any action, consider consulting with an experienced divorce attorney in your area.

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