Maryland Divorce Laws & FAQ

Get answers to the most common questions about divorce in Maryland.

By , Retired Judge

The divorce process can often seem overwhelming. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional and practical changes that come with ending a marriage, but you also have to navigate a legal system that's probably unfamiliar to you. And if you're like most people, you'll also have money concerns. But you can find answers to your questions about divorce laws in Maryland, as well as the help you need.

Note that the term "divorce" in this article refers to an "absolute divorce," which officially ends the marriage, as opposed to a "limited divorce," which is more like a legal separation. (More on that below.)

What are the legal grounds for divorce in Maryland?

Maryland allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. When you file for a fault-based divorce, you're claiming that your marriage failed because engaged in certain kinds of misconduct. Because your spouse is likely to fight those claims, pursuing a fault-based divorce can prolong the process and significantly increase expenses.

For that reason, most spouses opt for a no-fault divorce. The easiest no-fault ground to pursue in Maryland is "divorce by mutual consent." In order to file for an absolute divorce by mutual consent, you and your spouse must have a written divorce settlement agreement that covers all of the issues related to:

  • the division of your property and debts
  • alimony, and
  • the support, care, and custody (including parenting time) of any minor children you have with your spouse.

If you don't meet the requirements for a mutual consent divorce, you may file for divorce based on separation—but to do that, you and your spouse must have lived separate and apart without cohabitation (sexual relations) for 12 continuous months before filing for divorce.

Who can file for divorce in Maryland?

You may get a divorce in Maryland if you meet the state's residency and jurisdictional requirements. If you live in Maryland, there's ordinarily no waiting period before you may file your divorce papers. The only exception is when the legal reason for your divorce happened while you lived outside the state. In that case, either you or your spouse must have resided in Maryland for six months before the divorce papers are filed.

(Learn more about how to file for divorce in Maryland.)

Note that gay and lesbian couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

Does Maryland require separation before divorce?

Unless you're filing for divorce based on an 18-month separation (as discussed above), you don't need to be separated before you may file for or finalize a divorce in Maryland.

Still, many couples do separate at some point once they've decided to end their marriage. If that's something you're thinking about, you should look into whether moving out of the family home—either before or during divorce—is in your best interest.

As an alternative to an absolute divorce, Maryland allows couples to file for a "limited divorce." Despite its name, a limited divorce is more like a legal separation, because the spouses are still legally married at the end of the process. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 7-102 (2022).)

How much does divorce cost in Maryland?

You'll generally need to pay a fee when you file your initial divorce paperwork with the court. As of September 2022, the filing fee in Maryland is $165, but that amount is subject to change. If you can't afford to pay court fees, you can ask the judge to waive them by filing a "Request for Waiver of Pre-paid Costs."

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

  • whether you can file for an uncontested divorce (that is, you and your spouse have agreed about all of the legal issues), which would make it more likely that you could get a DIY divorce, and
  • whether you'll need to hire a lawyer to handle your divorce—and, if you do, how much the lawyer charges per hour and how long it will take to resolve the disputes in your case.

How long will it take to get a divorce in Maryland?

Unlike several other states, Maryland doesn't have a mandatory waiting period before you may get your final divorce. As with cost, the amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case.

An uncontested divorce will usually take approximately two to three months. Maryland requires a final hearing for a magistrate to review your settlement agreement and make sure you meet all of the requirements for a divorce. (Md. Rules, rule 9-209 (2022).) So if the courts are experiencing backlogs in the county where you filed for divorce, it could take extra time to schedule that hearing.

If your divorce is contested, however, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point, going to trial will require even more time—usually more than a year.

How is marital property divided in Maryland?

Courts in Maryland distribute marital property based on the principle of "equitable distribution." This means judges will divide property based on what they believe is fair under the circumstances of each case.

Attributing a value to each asset is usually pretty straightforward. But dividing some property can be tricky at times. You'll often see this with a family-owned business, where you may need the input of a forensic accountant. Another example is splitting retirement accounts, which usually requires hiring an expert.

How is child custody decided in Maryland?

All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in Maryland—including a judge's decision whether to approve the parent's parenting agreement—must be based on what would be in the children's best interests.

Judges will consider several factors when they make custody decisions. Those factors include each parent's character and reputation, what each parent wants regarding custody, and whether either parent has voluntarily abandoned or surrendered the child.

Judges will also take into consideration the custody preferences of children. As a general rule, the older a child is, the better the chance of a judge taking the child's wishes into account.

What are the child support guidelines in Maryland?

Like all states in the U.S., Maryland has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn all about how child support is calculated in Maryland, including when support amounts may depart from the guidelines.

How does alimony work in Maryland?

The judge will consider a list of factors when deciding whether to award alimony in a Maryland divorce, as well as the amount and duration of the payments. These include items such as the length of the marriage, the spouses' age and physical and mental health, and the standard of living during the marriage.

Temporary ("pendente lite") alimony is available while the divorce is in progress, if the judge believes it's warranted.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our Maryland divorce?

Yes, you and your spouse may agree about how to handle the issues in your divorce at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial. In fact, courts strongly encourage settlements.

If you've worked out all your issues, you'll normally put all the details in a written divorce settlement agreement, which will become part of the final divorce decree.

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about one or more of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve those disputes for you. Any time you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So if at all possible, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair to both you and your spouse.

When can I get an annulment in Maryland?

If you want to get an annulment, you'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for voiding a marriage. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 2-202 (2022).)

Learn more about annulment in Maryland, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my Maryland divorce?

You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on divorce in Maryland.

Here are some other resources:

  • Court services. You can find divorce information and court forms on the Maryland Courts website.
  • Mediation. If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, it's typical for the mediator to prepare a written divorce settlement agreement.
  • Online divorce. If you've reached a complete settlement but need more help with the uncontested divorce forms than you can get through the court's website, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Lawyers. Of course, there are some divorces that require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney.