In Maryland (or any other state), you may be able to get an "uncontested divorce," which simply means that you and your spouse reach a settlement agreement on all of the issues that must be addressed in order to end your marriage, such as dividing your property and caring for your children. Otherwise, you'll have to resort to a contested divorce, meaning that you go to trial and have a judge decide at least one of those issues.
Of course, many couples start out with disagreements when they file for divorce but eventually manage to work them out, either on their own or with help from professionals like divorce mediators and lawyers. That way, they can save the extra time and expense of trial, but they may still have costs like paying a mediator's or attorney's fees. (Learn more about how contested issues affect the cost of divorce.)
For couples who can agree at the outset on all of the issues in their divorce, Maryland offers an even quicker and less expensive form of uncontested divorce, known as "mutual consent" divorce. This article explains what that means and how to get this type of divorce.
An "absolute divorce" in Maryland is the legal proceeding that permanently ends a marriage. Once a judge finalizes an absolute divorce, both spouses may remarry.
When you file a petition (referred to as a "complaint" in Maryland) for absolute divorce, you must choose one of the legal "grounds" (or reasons) that the state allows. As of October 1, 2023, the only three grounds for absolute divorce in Maryland are:
(Md. Code, Family Law § 7-103 (2023).)
A mutual consent divorce is typically the quickest and most affordable way to end your marriage in Maryland, but it's only available to couples who are able to reach an agreement on all of the issues in their divorce before filing the divorce complaint. If you have disagreements with your spouse about any issues, you'll have to wait to start the divorce process in Maryland until you've been separated for at least six months.
The process of getting an uncontested Maryland divorce based on mutual consent is relatively simple, but it does require knowing the steps to follow, the legal paperwork that you must fill out, and where to file that paperwork. You don't need a lawyer, but you could use an online divorce service to simplify the process.
Because you must include a signed, written marital settlement agreement with the initial paperwork for a mutual consent divorce in Maryland, you and your spouse need to sit down and negotiate the terms of this agreement before you can start the legal divorce process. The agreement must cover:
You may also include any other matters that you want to address, like maintaining health insurance coverage.
If you're having trouble agreeing on any of these issues, you could try mediation. And before you sign an agreement, you might consider having a lawyer review it and make sure that it protects your rights. If you can't afford to hire a consulting lawyer, you can speak with a lawyer (for free) at your local Family Court Help Center or by calling the Maryland Court Help Center. The lawyers with the family court help centers may not represent you in your divorce, but they can provide brief legal advice.
First, you will need to get the correct Maryland divorce forms (which you can find, along with instructions for completing them, on the Maryland Courts divorce page).
If you're starting the process of filing for a mutual consent divorce, you will file a complaint for absolute divorce. Along with all of the other information requested on that form, be sure to check "Mutual Consent" as the ground for divorce. Besides the form for the marital settlement agreement, you'll also need to include several other forms, including
You must file the complaint, along with the other required forms and the filing fee, with the Maryland Circuit Court in the county where you or your spouse live. If the grounds for divorce happened outside of Maryland, one of you must have been a Maryland resident for at least six months at the time of filing. (Md. Code, Family Law, § 7-101 (2023).)
When you file the forms, the court clerk will issue a summons, create a case file, assign a number to the case, and collect the filing fee unless you've requested and qualify for a waiver. (Under the Maryland Circuit Court Fee Schedule, effective October 1, 2023, the filing fee for divorce is $165.)
You will then need to provide your spouse with copies of all the paperwork, but you can't do this yourself. Instead, you need to complete "service of process"—usually by having someone else (such as a private process server or sheriff) hand-deliver the copies or mail them by certified mail. Once you've served the papers, you must send the court proof of that service (using the appropriate form for the type of service you used).
If your spouse was the one who served you with a complaint for absolute divorce, you must respond by filing an answer within 30 days (or 60/90 days if you were served in another state or outside the country). For a mutual consent divorce, be sure to check all of the boxes declaring that you admit the statements in the complaint, and that you are asking the court to grant the relief requested in the complaint.
The court will typically schedule a hearing on your mutual consent divorce after reviewing your paperwork (you may also file a form requesting a hearing). At least one spouse must appear at the hearing; you should bring a copy of your marriage certificate and proof of your residency.
In addition to ensuring that neither spouse has asked to have the settlement agreement set aside, the judge will review the agreement to make sure that the plan for minor or dependent children of the marriage is in the children's best interests. The judge may then approve and incorporate the settlement agreement into your final divorce decree. (Md. Code, Family Law, § 7-103 (2023).)
Even when you and your spouse agree to end your marriage, divorce is difficult. If your situation involves a lot of conflict, you might want to talk to a lawyer.
If you have questions about forms and the filing process, you can get more information and assistance from one of Maryland's Family Court Help Centers or the Maryland Court Help Center. Most of these centers provide free legal help. Also, Maryland Legal Aid provides advice and legal representation for those who qualify for their services based on need.