Maryland Divorce

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Divorce in Maryland

When you are married, you and your spouse have devised an unwritten set of rules that you and your family live by. You probably sit in the same chair when you come down for your coffee each morning, you know who feeds the dog, you know who picks up the kids from school, and you know how the bills get paid – from which account, and by whom. Divorce wreaks chaos on those rules; you don’t know who is going to keep the dog, the chair you sit in – or who will get custody of your children.

Divorce/separation is nothing more than the establishment of a new set of rules for your family to live by, in a different configuration than you’re used to. There are only two ways to get to that new set of rules: either you and your spouse can agree to them, or you can have a judge tell you what they will be. Having a new set of rules is a mandatory component of the divorce itself. If you haven’t agreed to them by divorce day, then at the time of divorce a judge will conduct a trial and listen to each of you tell him/her what you want the rules to be and why. At the end of the trial, the judge will tell you what to do with the most important things in your life: your children, your house, and your money.

Maryland Has Two Types of Divorce: Limited and Absolute

You may be surprised to learn that Maryland has two types of divorce: a limited divorce, and an absolute divorce. For either kind of divorce, though, you need a “ticket” to get through the courthouse door; in divorce-speak, this ticket is called “grounds.” Grounds are the legal justification for the court to entertain your case at all: without grounds, your divorce cannot be entertained or granted.

When you think of divorce, you’re probably thinking of an absolute divorce, which is the legal termination of your marriage to your spouse. Once an absolute divorce is granted, you can no longer file joint taxes, everything you have acquired during your marriage has been divided up between you and your spouse, and you are free to marry someone else. The grounds to obtain an absolute divorce are, in general, more difficult to achieve. The most commonly used grounds requiring one of the following:

  1. a full year’s separation if there has been no separation agreement reached and signed during that year;
  2. proof of the inclination and opportunity of your spouse to commit adultery;
  3. extreme cruelty;
  4. an existing full separation agreement signed by both of you that addresses all of the issues in your case, including but not limited to:
    a) legal and physical custody of your children,
    b) child support,
    c) alimony, and
    d) division of assets.

If one of those (or one of the more arcane, seldom applicable) grounds exist, you have the right to go to the court and file for an absolute divorce to terminate your marriage legally.

The court’s power in a limited divorce is, well, more limited. In a limited divorce, the court has the power only to make limited field of temporary, interim orders. All that can be achieved in a limited divorce is temporary custody of children, temporary child support, temporary use and possession of the marital home by a custodian of the children, temporary alimony, temporary requirements to maintain child and spousal health insurance, and temporary requirements of the parties to contribute to the monthly mortgage payment on the marital home.

The idea of a limited divorce is to put out the fires of urgency to assure that a family stabilizes to the extent possible pending the development of grounds for and processing of an absolute divorce, which takes much longer. The limited divorce is something of a dinosaur under Maryland law; it is quite similar in outcome to the “pendente lite” relief often granted early in the case. The limited divorce itself accomplishes little in terms of practical assistance to parties; rather, it is the underlying limited relief of support, custody, etc. that benefits the family, and the court seldom bothers to order, nor do the parties need, a proclamation of limited divorce if the underlying relief to establish temporary rules is granted.

Steps to Divorce in Maryland

Once grounds exist for either a limited or absolute divorce, your case is begun by the filing with the court of a “complaint” or “petition”. The complaint/petition is merely an announcement to the court that you are seeking the court’s assistance in processing your divorce. The complaint recites basic marriage statistics, such as the date of your marriage, the ages of your children, and your residency in the state. The complaint further recites each ground that exists to authorize the court to proceed, and ends with a list of requests that you are making of the court, such as: grant an absolute divorce; award joint legal custody of the children; award child support, award alimony, etc. Your complaint must be signed under your oath that the facts set forth are true.

Once your complaint is sent to/filed with the court, the court clerks review it, determine how the case will be managed and processed in the court system, a summons is attached and the court sends the complaint with summons back to the filer. The summons is an official announcement to your spouse that a lawsuit has been filed against him/her. The summons and copy of the complaint have to be “served” (delivered) upon your spouse before the case really begins, and you can choose whether to hire a professional process server or a sheriff to complete the service. You are the one person on the planet who cannot serve your spouse. Once service has been completed, the process server sends an affidavit to the court, notifying the court of successful service. This is the starting point of your case; until your spouse has been served and the court notified, the court will not go forward with the administration of your case.

The court’s administration of your case begins with a short meeting (scheduling conference) to schedule deadlines and determine whether an early hearing, called a pendente lite hearing is appropriate to address immediate issues such as temporary support or temporary custody, if those issues threaten to destabilize the family while the divorce is pending. The path of your case up to a final settlement conference prior to trial and case deadlines are mapped out at the scheduling conference. The path includes required deadlines for information gathering, and mandatory junctures for settlement of the case.

From the moment your case is mapped out, the court will encourage and require alternative means of resolution so that you don’t end up in a contested trial to resolve every issue. If your case involves child custody, you will be required to go to mediation; in high-asset cases, while the court cannot require mediation, it will be heavily recommended. Thus, throughout the pendency of the case, we are engaged simultaneously engaged in both settlement negotiations and in trial preparation; your lawyer needs the same information for both processes. If we are successful in settling the case through negotiation, we would not need a contested trial at the end of the case to obtain the new set of rules for your family to live by, and your agreement about all of the issues would become the terms of the divorce order. On the other hand, if you have not reached agreement, the judge must conduct a trial to complete the divorce process.

Our section on Litigation explains more fully the trial process; our section on Alternative Dispute Resolution explains various settlement options.

If your case cannot be resolved out of court, our experienced and skillful team of trial lawyers will protect your interests and pursue the results that best protect your interests under the law. We understand that you are going to have to live with the outcome of your divorce negotiations or litigation, and we take that consideration very seriously. We are driven by confidence, competence, and compassion, and will stand by you to aggressively pursue your best possible result.

Our Experienced Divorce Lawyers will Negotiate, Mediate or Litigate Your Divorce

For help with child custody, support, alimony, property division, and other matters related to divorce, contact our divorce lawyers online or call 410-280-1700 to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

Divorce in Maryland

When you are married, you and your spouse have devised an unwritten set of rules that you and your family live by. You probably sit in the same chair when you come down for your coffee each morning, you know who feeds the dog, you know who picks up the kids from school, and you know how the bills get paid – from which account, and by whom. Divorce wreaks chaos on those rules; you don’t know who is going to keep the dog, the chair you sit in – or who will get custody of your children.

Divorce/separation is nothing more than the establishment of a new set of rules for your family to live by, in a different configuration than you’re used to. There are only two ways to get to that new set of rules: either you and your spouse can agree to them, or you can have a judge tell you what they will be. Having a new set of rules is a mandatory component of the divorce itself. If you haven’t agreed to them by divorce day, then at the time of divorce a judge will conduct a trial and listen to each of you tell him/her what you want the rules to be and why. At the end of the trial, the judge will tell you what to do with the most important things in your life: your children, your house, and your money.

Maryland Has Two Types of Divorce: Limited and Absolute

You may be surprised to learn that Maryland has two types of divorce: a limited divorce, and an absolute divorce. For either kind of divorce, though, you need a “ticket” to get through the courthouse door; in divorce-speak, this ticket is called “grounds.” Grounds are the legal justification for the court to entertain your case at all: without grounds, your divorce cannot be entertained or granted.

When you think of divorce, you’re probably thinking of an absolute divorce, which is the legal termination of your marriage to your spouse. Once an absolute divorce is granted, you can no longer file joint taxes, everything you have acquired during your marriage has been divided up between you and your spouse, and you are free to marry someone else. The grounds to obtain an absolute divorce are, in general, more difficult to achieve. The most commonly used grounds requiring one of the following:

  1. a full year’s separation if there has been no separation agreement reached and signed during that year;
  2. proof of the inclination and opportunity of your spouse to commit adultery;
  3. extreme cruelty;
  4. an existing full separation agreement signed by both of you that addresses all of the issues in your case, including but not limited to:
    a) legal and physical custody of your children,
    b) child support,
    c) alimony, and
    d) division of assets.

If one of those (or one of the more arcane, seldom applicable) grounds exist, you have the right to go to the court and file for an absolute divorce to terminate your marriage legally.

The court’s power in a limited divorce is, well, more limited. In a limited divorce, the court has the power only to make limited field of temporary, interim orders. All that can be achieved in a limited divorce is temporary custody of children, temporary child support, temporary use and possession of the marital home by a custodian of the children, temporary alimony, temporary requirements to maintain child and spousal health insurance, and temporary requirements of the parties to contribute to the monthly mortgage payment on the marital home.

The idea of a limited divorce is to put out the fires of urgency to assure that a family stabilizes to the extent possible pending the development of grounds for and processing of an absolute divorce, which takes much longer. The limited divorce is something of a dinosaur under Maryland law; it is quite similar in outcome to the “pendente lite” relief often granted early in the case. The limited divorce itself accomplishes little in terms of practical assistance to parties; rather, it is the underlying limited relief of support, custody, etc. that benefits the family, and the court seldom bothers to order, nor do the parties need, a proclamation of limited divorce if the underlying relief to establish temporary rules is granted.

Steps to Divorce in Maryland

Once grounds exist for either a limited or absolute divorce, your case is begun by the filing with the court of a “complaint” or “petition”. The complaint/petition is merely an announcement to the court that you are seeking the court’s assistance in processing your divorce. The complaint recites basic marriage statistics, such as the date of your marriage, the ages of your children, and your residency in the state. The complaint further recites each ground that exists to authorize the court to proceed, and ends with a list of requests that you are making of the court, such as: grant an absolute divorce; award joint legal custody of the children; award child support, award alimony, etc. Your complaint must be signed under your oath that the facts set forth are true.

Once your complaint is sent to/filed with the court, the court clerks review it, determine how the case will be managed and processed in the court system, a summons is attached and the court sends the complaint with summons back to the filer. The summons is an official announcement to your spouse that a lawsuit has been filed against him/her. The summons and copy of the complaint have to be “served” (delivered) upon your spouse before the case really begins, and you can choose whether to hire a professional process server or a sheriff to complete the service. You are the one person on the planet who cannot serve your spouse. Once service has been completed, the process server sends an affidavit to the court, notifying the court of successful service. This is the starting point of your case; until your spouse has been served and the court notified, the court will not go forward with the administration of your case.

The court’s administration of your case begins with a short meeting (scheduling conference) to schedule deadlines and determine whether an early hearing, called a pendente lite hearing is appropriate to address immediate issues such as temporary support or temporary custody, if those issues threaten to destabilize the family while the divorce is pending. The path of your case up to a final settlement conference prior to trial and case deadlines are mapped out at the scheduling conference. The path includes required deadlines for information gathering, and mandatory junctures for settlement of the case.

From the moment your case is mapped out, the court will encourage and require alternative means of resolution so that you don’t end up in a contested trial to resolve every issue. If your case involves child custody, you will be required to go to mediation; in high-asset cases, while the court cannot require mediation, it will be heavily recommended. Thus, throughout the pendency of the case, we are engaged simultaneously engaged in both settlement negotiations and in trial preparation; your lawyer needs the same information for both processes. If we are successful in settling the case through negotiation, we would not need a contested trial at the end of the case to obtain the new set of rules for your family to live by, and your agreement about all of the issues would become the terms of the divorce order. On the other hand, if you have not reached agreement, the judge must conduct a trial to complete the divorce process.

Our section on Litigation explains more fully the trial process; our section on Alternative Dispute Resolution explains various settlement options.

If your case cannot be resolved out of court, our experienced and skillful team of trial lawyers will protect your interests and pursue the results that best protect your interests under the law. We understand that you are going to have to live with the outcome of your divorce negotiations or litigation, and we take that consideration very seriously. We are driven by confidence, competence, and compassion, and will stand by you to aggressively pursue your best possible result.

Our Experienced Divorce Lawyers will Negotiate, Mediate or Litigate Your Divorce

For help with child custody, support, alimony, property division, and other matters related to divorce, contact our divorce lawyers online or call 410-280-1700 to schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

How Can We Help You?