Divorce is the only way to dissolve the contract of marriage, and must be granted by a state court with jurisdiction. Each state handles divorce law a little bit differently. That is why it’s important to understand Maryland divorce law. For example, Maryland is an equitable distribution state where Judges have greater latitude in deciding property issues based on a number of factors.
Absolute and Limited Divorce
There are two types of divorce proceedings under Maryland divorce law: absolute and limited. An absolute divorce is permanent. It permits both parties to remarry and finalizes all property claims. On the other hand, a limited divorce is not final. While a limited divorce does not dissolve the marriage, it does permit both spouses to live separate and apart from one another. A limited divorce also allows the court to decide custody and support issues, as well as who gets to live in the marital home. You do not have to get a limited divorce before you can get an absolute divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Under Maryland divorce law, you must prove a “grounds for divorce” before the court may issue an absolute divorce. Some of those grounds include:
- Constructive or actual desertion
Additionally, there are statutory waiting periods that must be met before a court can issue an absolute divorce. The actual waiting period depends on your reason for divorce. A common example arises with separation, also known as no fault divorce. In order to apply for a no fault divorce, you must have lived apart from one another for at least 12 consecutive months without hope of getting back together.
Similarly, one of the following conditions must be met before a court can issue a limited divorce:
- Excessive Cruelty
- Constructive or actual desertion
Maryland Custody Law
There are two primary types of custody to decide during a divorce: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody affects where the child resides, which parent has discretion over day-to-day decisions, and who is responsible for child support. Legal custody, on the other hand, addresses who has the right to make long-term decisions affecting the child. Examples of legal custody issues include where the child will go to school, which doctor(s) they will see, and what religion they will practice.
Both legal and physical custody can be either joint or sole. Joint legal custody gives both parents the right to make major decisions for their child; whereas, sole legal custody vests that right in a single parent. Often, a court will grant joint legal custody over a child even though one parent primary physical custody if the court believes that the parents can work in a cooperative fashion for the best interests of the child. Under a primary physical custody arrangement, the child will spend the majority of their time with one parent. The non-custodial parent may still be granted visitation rights; primary physical custody does not mean the child is completely taken away from one parent. Joint physical custody, also called shared custody, means the child’s time will be equally divided between the two parents.
Custody issues are resolved according to what is in the best interests of the child. In making this determination, courts will consider a number of factors such as the fitness of the parents, the character and reputation of the parties, the age and health of the child, and religious considerations. There are a number of other factors courts will consider when deciding child custody; each dispute is resolved on a case-by-case basis.
Both parents have an obligation to support their child. Child support obligations persist until the child reaches 18 years of age, or 19 years old if the child has not yet graduated from high school.
Courts use worksheets and guidelines under the Maryland Family Law Article in determining who owes child support and in what amount. The amount of financial contribution required by each parent depends on his or her financial situation, which parent has primary custody of the child, as well as the actual needs of the child. Child support worksheets are available online. You can also pick them up from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, or your local family law clinic.
Division of Property
Maryland is an equitable distribution state, which is different from a community property state. Generally, any property that was owned prior to the marriage, or was received by gift during the marriage is considered non-marital property. Courts do not consider non-marital property when deciding how to split up the marital estate.
Marital property includes all property obtained during the marriage, no matter who paid for it or how it is titled. Of course, all property titled as tenants by the entirety (such as the marital home) is considered marital property.
Property may be divided by one of several ways: agreement of the parties, or equitable distribution by the court.
Every case is different – contact an experienced attorney at the Zirkin and Schmerling Law. You need an attorney who will work hard for you.