On October 1, 2018, a new law went into effect in Maryland that revises the 2015 laws permitting mutual consent divorce without a year-long separation, provided certain conditions are met. The current law expands on the 2015 laws, making mutual consent divorces accessible to a wider range of couples filing for divorce.
Senate Bill 120 Overwhelmingly Passes General Assembly
In February of 2018, the Maryland Senate passed SB120 by a 33 to 14 vote, which authorizes a court to allow divorce on the grounds of mutual consent if the parties involved have minor children, as long as the other conditions are met. The Maryland House of Delegates followed suit and passed the bill as well and Governor Hogan signed the legislation into law.
Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, who sponsored the bill, argued that it helps eliminate a drawn-out divorce process in cases where parties are able to work out the details amicably. The bill is designed to allow couples with minor children the possibility of avoiding the lengthy and expensive process of divorce in Maryland.
“This is not some drive-by quickie divorce,” Senator Zirkin tells the Maryland Reporter. “It’s saying, if the parties work it out, then they can file without having to go through this farce,” referring to potentially contentious and unnecessary divorce proceedings.
Now, couples with minor children no longer need to maintain separate households and finances for an entire year to be granted a mutual consent divorce. However, they still must complete and sign a marital settlement agreement that includes provisions for the care, custody, access and support of minor or dependent children as well as child support guidelines and submit them to the court. The court reviews the terms of the agreement to ensure they are in the best interest of the children. If not, the agreement must be redrafted and resubmitted for review.
In the coming year and beyond, we will likely see results of this legislation.
While opponents of SB120 cite an increase in the number of divorces in Maryland, current statistics show the overall divorce rate in Maryland is 9.9%. Compare this to the overall divorce rate of 10.9% in the U.S., and you see our state is slightly below the average. It is clear that permitting divorce by mutual consent does not increase the numbers of divorces.
Philip Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, says divorce rates across the country are indeed falling, especially among college educated couples. In his recently published report, The Coming Divorce Decline, he concludes that marriage itself is becoming a “component of social inequity.”
“Marriages are becoming more selective, and more stable for people under age 45,” he says in the University’s publication Maryland Today. “People are getting married later and are getting married after they finish college … delaying marriage until they have a more stable economic situation and a more stable romantic relationship.”
All divorces in Maryland require proof of grounds.
You must have your grounds for divorce before you file. If you can’t prove grounds for divorce, accusing your spouse of these grounds could be grounds for awarding legal fees to your spouse. Until the divorce is final, you should not do anything that would provide your spouse grounds for divorce. The grounds for a final or “absolute” divorce in Maryland include:
- One year mutual and voluntary separation – Living separately and apart for 12 months without interruption.
- Desertion – For one full year without legal cause, actual or constructive (you are forced to leave by the behavior of your spouse)
- Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor – Requires incarceration for one full year under a sentence of three or more years.
- Insanity – Confined to a mental institution for at least three years
- Excessively vicious conduct
- Mutual Consent
Have a Legal Question About Divorce in Maryland? We Have Answers
If you are considering divorce – mutual consent or otherwise – the attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law are experts at answering all your questions and guiding you through this challenging time in your life. Led by Jana Ponczak, the head of Z&S’s Family Law Department, we will protect your interests, work with you on child custody and support and division of property and build a solid case. Contact us or call us at 410-753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our family law attorneys today.g