The following is a synopsis of the law regarding divorce. It is not intended to be a complete summary of the law and should not take the place of legal advice from an attorney:
Marriage is a legal status whereby two people become a single entity for legal purposes, including taxes, fee's, etc. Divorce is the process of absolving that legal status. Divorce can come in a variety of different forms.
Divorce 101: Grounds or no Grounds
Before even talking about the different forms of divorce, it is crucial to realize that there are actually 2 different paths to divorce, namely 1) no -fault divorce or 2) fault-based divorce.
1) The no-fault divorce: In a no-fault divorce, neither party is giving a real reason why they are divorcing. They just want a divorce. What will often be cited is "irreconcilable differences" and nothing more. This is because in Maryland, people can get divorced without going into the reason why. This is the primary mode of divorce for people who wish to navigate quickly through the system. In cases involving children, a no-fault divorce requires both parties to live separate and apart for 12 months (ie. living in separate houses, no sexual contact, etc.). When there are no children, the divorce can be expedited (ie. 2-3 months) without requiring the 12 month separation period.
2) Fault-based divorce: In a fault-based divorce, one or either party is stating that it is the fault of the other party which has led them to request the divorce. This is a far more acrimonious process, as unlike no-fault divorces, these cases often require a lot of time, preparation and litigation, as each ground for divorce must be proven in court. There are several grounds* for divorce recognized in Maryland, including, but not limited to: adultery; cruel treatment; desertion of the marriage; constructive desertion of the marriage; etc. These grounds can be used singly and jointly in Maryland.
Limited or Absolute Divorce:
In Maryland, there are 2 different forms of divorces: 1) a limited divorce or 2) an absolute divorce. Each has its own issues and advantages, which will be briefly discussed below.
1) Limited Divorces: In a limited divorce, the parties are essentially asking the Court for a legal separation. They no longer wish to reside together, but they are not completely done with the marriage yet. In limited divorces, both parties remain legally married, if separated, and maintain responsibilities for each other (ie. duty of support*, monogamy, etc.). Limited divorces are most often used as a transitional step, where each party learns how to function without the other, while still having some of the support networks of the marriage. It also can be fairly easily transitioned into the absolute divorce, as the grounds remain the same, making it useful in certain select situations.
2) Absolute Divorces: As the name implies, an absolute divorce is the complete dissolution of the legal marital bonds. Once an absolute divorce is finished, neither party has any legal responsibilities to the other, with the exception of certain matters like child support*, alimony*, etc. Both parties are free to marry again if they choose, etc. In an absolute divorce, all marital property* is divided between both parties and they each go their separate ways.
Defining Some Terms:
- Marital Property- Marital property is literally all property that has been accrued in the course of the marriage. When you get married, all the assets that either party accrue (ie. income, real estate, etc.) belongs jointly to the other. The theory is that each partner brings something to the marriage that allows for accrual of assets. This means that any money earned or any property bought during the marriage belongs to both parties. There are a few exceptions to this, namely inheritance and/or assets from before the marriage.
- Alimony - In certain select cases where one party has considerably higher earning potential than the other party (think lawyer/doctor and stay at home parent), the Court may order one party to help support the other party for a period of time, usually 3 years. It is rare that the Court will order indefinite alimony, though it does occur in some select situations where the other party cannot realistically become self-sufficient.
- Duty of Support - When you are married, both parties have a duty of support to another. They have to help provide for each others welfare, needs, etc. This responsibility only ceases after an absolute divorce.
- Child support - See Custody section.
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