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.
Under Maryland law, there are three "grounds" (legal reasons) for absolute divorce:
The most efficient ground to pursue is "divorce by mutual consent." To file for an absolute divorce by mutual consent in Maryland, 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 choose to pursue a divorce based on separation, you and your spouse must live "separate and apart" for six continuous months. Separate and apart doesn't necessarily mean establishing separate households. You and your spouse may live under the same roof and still be separated under the law if you have pursued separate lives. The six-month separation can also be based on a court order, such as a protective order.
Finally, you or your spouse can pursue a divorce if either of you believes that your marriage should end for reasons that can't be resolved (called " irreconcilable differences").
(Md. Code, Fam. Law § 7-103 (2023).)
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. (Md. Code, Fam. Law § 7-101 (2023); Fletcher v. Fletcher, 619 A.2d 561 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1993).)
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.
Learn more about how to file for divorce in Maryland.
Unless you're filing for divorce based on separation (as discussed above), you don't need to be separated before you may file for or finalize a divorce in Maryland. Even then, you can be separated and still live under the same roof if you've pursued separate lives for six months.
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.
(Md. Code, Fam. Law § 7-103 (2023).)
You'll need to pay a fee when you file your initial divorce paperwork with the court. As of October 1, 2023, 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 for a filing fee waiver.
Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce in Maryland will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:
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 around 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 (2023).) 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 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.
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.
All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in Maryland—including a judge's decision on whether to approve a parenting plan—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.
Like all states, 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.
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 alimony (called "pendente lite") is available while the divorce is in progress if the judge believes it's warranted.
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.
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.
Learn more about annulment in Maryland, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.
You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on Maryland Divorce and Family Law.
Here are some other resources: