Changes in Maryland’s No-Fault Divorce Law

Depending on the case, the decision to divorce can be based on any number of high-conflict events. In the alternative, it can simply come from fundamental differences between the spouses. In Maryland, spouses can file for absolute divorce or mutually agree on it, and neither one must show fault if certain requirements are met.

Separation Period Reduced but Still Required

While Maryland no-fault divorce law does not require fault, it does require the spouses to separate for a period of time before the divorce can go before the court. Before October 2011, the period was one year if the separation was mutual and voluntary based on a separation agreement. Spouses who had not agreed were required to show the court they had been separated for two years.

New legislation has simplified this system. Now, there is one ground for divorce based on separation, requiring a 12-month separation regardless of whether the spouses agreed to separate or divorce. The law only requires that the spouses lived apart, without sexual relations, for 12 consecutive months. If a spouse wants to defend against the divorce, the spouse can argue that the two cohabited or engaged in sexual relations during those months.

Grounds for Divorce Based on Fault

Aside from these new grounds for no-fault divorce, Maryland law continues to allow courts to grant a fault-based divorce on the grounds of:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion for one year
  • Conviction of certain crimes
  • Insanity resulting in at least three years in a mental institution
  • Cruelty toward the spouse or a minor child
  • Excessively vicious conduct toward the spouse or a minor child

Desertion includes one spouse actually leaving the other or a spouse's behavior forcing the other to leave. For cruelty or vicious conduct, the law says that the spouse must prove there is no reasonable expectation that the spouses will reconcile. Cruelty is typically inflicting bodily harm or threatening, but the court might recognize mental cruelty in some situations.

The crimes that provide grounds for divorce must have resulted in a sentence of at least three years or one that is indeterminate. The spouse must also have served that sentence for at least one year.

Spouses considering or going through divorce should contact an experienced divorce attorney to determine whether no-fault divorce is an option or whether they meet the grounds for fault-based divorce.