Divorce by Mutual Consent: A New Option for Maryland Residents
Posted in Divorce on September 15, 2015
Up until now, Maryland residents seeking an absolute divorce had two options: live separate and apart without cohabitation for twelve months before filing for divorce, or meet one of a small number of conditions, such as adultery or desertion, to be able to file for divorce based on fault immediately.
As of October 1, 2015, however, a third option will be available: divorce by mutual consent. This option will allow some couples who do not have fault grounds to file for divorce without the previously-required twelve month waiting period.
Who can get a Maryland divorce by mutual consent?
Divorce by mutual consent is available only to Maryland couples who do not have a minor child in common. Married couples who have minor children from other relationships, but not with each other, are eligible for divorce by mutual consent. The other requirements are straightforward:
- The parties must execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement, signed by both parties, that resolves all issues relating to alimony and the distribution of property;
- Neither party files a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing; and
- Both parties appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.
In the event a Maryland court grants a divorce on the grounds of mutual consent, it is authorized to merge or incorporate the settlement agreement into the couple’s divorce decree, as well as to modify or enforce the agreement.
Couples should be aware, though, that there is a difference between incorporating and merging an agreement into their divorce decree. When an agreement is incorporated, it can be enforced both as a contract and as an order of the court. An agreement that is merged into a divorce decree can be enforced only as a court order. It’s best to consult with a Maryland family law attorney as to what this could mean for you, and which of these options is better for your situation.
What are the benefits of divorce by mutual consent?
For couples who qualify, these new grounds for divorce have a very tangible benefit. Previously, if a couple did not meet the criteria for a divorce based on fault, their only option was to live apart for twelve months or more. From a financial standpoint, many couples found it impractical, if not impossible, to maintain separate residences while waiting to divorce. The availability of divorce by mutual consent relieves some Maryland couples of this financial burden and allows them to assess their financial situation before being forced to commit to the expense of two residences.
As significant as the economic benefit of divorce by mutual consent is, there are other benefits as well. Few couples make the decision to divorce lightly. If both parties realize that divorce is necessary, it makes little sense to force them to remain married legally when they have resolved all their issues and are ready to move on with their separate lives. The availability of divorce by consent, simply stated, gives some Maryland residents more control over their lives and relationships.