If you and your spouse have a civil relationship and are able to settle the issues in your case, you can seek a quick divorce in Maryland. A no contest divorce in Maryland (also called an “uncontested divorce”) will save you time and money.
This article explains the process for obtaining an uncontested divorce in Maryland. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
When you file for an absolute divorce in Maryland, you must give the court a "ground," or legal reason, that you’re seeking a divorce. Maryland recognizes a number of fault-based grounds, including adultery, desertion, felony conviction, insanity, and cruelty to a spouse or child. However, if you select one of these grounds, you’re likely to face an argument with your spouse and your case will be considered “contested” and need to go to trial.
If you’re hoping for an uncontested divorce in Maryland, you can file for a no contest divorce if you and your spouse have been separated and haven’t lived together for 12 months. Selecting this separation option, rather than assigning fault, might work best if you and your spouse are trying to work through legal issues together. Maryland also offers a mutual consent divorce for couples who haven’t been separated for 12 months, but agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken and submit a settlement agreement to the court resolving alimony, property division, custody, and child support issues. See Md. Code, Family Code, § 7-103 (2020).
Additionally, before you can get divorced in the state, you must meet Maryland’s residency requirements. If the grounds for the divorce occurred within Maryland, then there is no residency requirement except that you or your spouse must be currently living in Maryland. However, if the grounds for the divorce happened outside of Maryland, then you or your spouse must have lived in Maryland for 6 months before you can file for divorce. See Md. Code, Family Law, § 7-101 (2020).
If you meet the above residency requirements, you can file your case in the circuit court that’s located in the county where either you or your spouse live, are regularly employed, or have a business.
An uncontested divorce simply means that both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce. Separated couples without children and who own no property can obtain an uncontested divorce rather easily. Couples who own property and have children together can still obtain an uncontested divorce if they have a signed separation agreement that addresses these issues. The rules for obtaining an uncontested divorce in Maryland vary slightly from county to county so it’s important to understand the rules where you live.
If you’re handling your divorce without an attorney, you’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file your case in the wrong place, your divorce could be tossed out or transferred and you’ll have to start over. The Maryland Courts website has a court directory you can use to identify each judicial circuit by county.
The entry-level trial court in Maryland is the district court, which handles small cases, like misdemeanors, small claims, and misdemeanors. Circuit courts, which are also trial courts, handle more serious matters like divorces. Every county and the City of Baltimore are assigned to a circuit court. You must file your divorce case in your local circuit court.
The first thing that the plaintiff (the spouse who begins the divorce) needs to do is locate the correct forms and complete them. The Maryland Courts offer online divorce forms at no cost. Along with the forms, the Maryland Courts site publishes detailed instructions you’ll need to follow when completing and filing your paperwork. It’s important to take your time and work carefully. You should type everything on a computer or write or print neatly. Mistakes in your paperwork could delay your divorce.
Many documents will need to be completed in your case, but the most important is the complaint. The complaint provides a lot of information about the spouses and their marriage, and it includes a plea from the plaintiff for the court to order certain relief, like granting the divorce or ordering the defendant (the other spouse) to pay alimony.
Although you can ask the court clerks basic questions, a court clerk can’t give you legal advice. If you have questions about the legal ramifications of your divorce, you should consider hiring a divorce lawyer. You may be able to access low cost or free legal assistance through Maryland Legal Aid.
When your divorce paperwork is complete, you’ll need to take it your local circuit courthouse for filing. The court will issue a summons, create a case file, assign a number to the case, and charge a filing fee. If you can't afford to pay the fee, you can ask the clerk for an indigency waiver. You’ll need to submit financial information with your fee waiver request. If you meet the financial criteria (i.e., you’re below the poverty line), all your filing and service fees will be waived.
The next step is for the plaintiff to serve the defendant. "Service" is the official means by which you make sure that the other spouse gets a copy of your documents. A sheriff or private process server will personally hand over the summons and complaint to your spouse and complete an affidavit of service for filing with the court. If you and your spouse have already been talking and reached an agreement, it may seem silly to have to serve the documents, but you must do it unless your spouse is willing to sign a waiver of service.
To obtain an uncontested divorce in Maryland, the defendant can file an answer which indicates total agreement with the petition and a copy of the written separation agreement showing that both spouses agree on all the important issues in their divorce.
Once the paperwork has been filed, the plaintiff should write to the clerk of court to request an uncontested hearing date. The plaintiff must appear at the hearing with a witness (not the other spouse) who can testify that the plaintiff has satisfied the residency requirements for a Maryland divorce. The plaintiff should also bring a copy of the marriage certificate, a copy of the signed separation agreement, and some information that supports the plaintiff’s Maryland residency (like W-2s).
At the final hearing, the plaintiff will give testimony by responding to some brief questioning from the judge. The defendant can appear but also has the right to waive (give up) an appearance. The final agreement will be placed “on the record” (meaning, a court reporter will write it in an official transcript) and the judge will approve it. The judge will sign the final divorce order if it is fair and reasonable and serves the best interests of any children.