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 professional help from divorce mediation and/or 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.
Maryland family law has two basic types of divorce:
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. Some of these grounds are based on fault—meaning that you are seeking a divorce because of your spouse's conduct, such as cruel treatment, adultery, or desertion. If you choose a fault-based ground, your spouse is likely to contest your claims. Then you'll have to prove those claims in court—which can be very expensive and time-consuming.
But Maryland law also includes two "no-fault" divorce grounds:
(Md. Code, Family Law § 7-103 (2021).)
A mutual consent divorce is the quickest and least-expensive 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 a full year.
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 make the process even easier.
Because you need to 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 to do this, 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 are initiating 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. As long as you and your spouse consented and signed the settlement agreement in Maryland, the state doesn't have any other residency requirements for a mutual consent divorce other than living in the state when you file the complaint (Md. Code, Family Law, § 7-101 (2021)).
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 September 2021, 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 initiated the divorce, you must file a completed form with your answer to the complaint 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.
If you have any questions about the forms and filing process, you can get assistance at a Maryland Court Help Center. Or you can use an online divorce service that will complete all of the necessary forms for you, after you've answered some questions about your situation. Many of these services guarantee that the court will accept the forms.
Typically, the court will schedule a hearing on your mutual consent divorce after reviewing your paperwork (although you may 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 any provisions regarding minor or dependent children of the marriage are in the children's best interests. The judge may then approve the settlement agreement and incorporate it into your final divorce decree. (Md. Code, Family Law, § 7-103(a)(8), (f) (2021).)