The Filing Process For Divorce in Maryland
Posted in Divorce on October 15, 2015
After perhaps months of going back and forth about it in your mind, you’ve finally made the decision to file for divorce. You’re ready to take what has become a reality to you and commit to it out in the world. But what is the first step?
If you live in Maryland, and you want to terminate your marriage, you want an “absolute divorce.” The alternative, a “limited divorce,” is what people in most states would call a legal separation. For simplicity’s sake, when this article refers to “divorce,” the reference will be to an absolute divorce.
Fault, No-Fault, or Mutual Consent?
Until recently in Maryland, in order to file for divorce, you must either have lived apart from your spouse for a full year or been able to allege your spouse’s fault in the breakdown of the marriage. If you’re contemplating divorce, you probably have a laundry list of faults in mind! However, Maryland recognizes only a few specific fault grounds for divorce. These are:
- Desertion (actual or constructive)
- Cruelty and Excessively Vicious Conduct (including mental or physical abuse)
- Conviction of a Crime
Each of these grounds has specific criteria that must be met in order for a divorce to proceed immediately. It’s best to consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney to be certain the facts of your situation fall within one of these categories.
If you cannot file for divorce based on fault, you can file based on having lived “separate and apart without cohabitation” from your spouse for twelve continuous months. This means not only residing separately but also not having had sexual relations. If on day 364 of your separation, you have sex with your spouse, the waiting period must begin all over again.
As of October 1, 2015, there is also a third option: divorce by mutual consent. Available only to couples without any minor children in common, this new option eliminates both the need to prove fault and the need for the twelve-month waiting period before filing for divorce.
The Filing Process for a Maryland Divorce
To initiate a divorce, you will need to file two forms with the Circuit Court that covers the Maryland county in which you or your spouse lives. These are the Complaint for Absolute Divorce, and the Civil Domestic Case Information Report. You may also need to complete and file, depending on your circumstances, a Joint Statement of Marital Property, Financial Statement, and Child Support Guidelines Worksheets. You will also have to pay a filing fee.
When you file your divorce documents with the clerk, you will be issued a Writ of Summons, which will need to be served on your spouse. This must be done by a disinterested third party, who must personally hand-deliver these forms to your spouse, and then complete an Affidavit of Service form. You must then file this form with the Circuit Court in which you filed for divorce, to prove that your spouse has been notified about the divorce.
Do you need to have an attorney to file for divorce? You are not legally required to have an attorney, but as a practical matter, you will probably want to, especially if there are any contested issues in your divorce, if you have children with your spouse, or if you and your spouse have a lot of property to divide. Also, if your spouse has an attorney, you’re at a significant disadvantage if you are representing yourself. A divorce attorney is not ethically allowed to represent both parties since they likely have conflicting interests. If your spouse tells you his or her attorney will “take care of both of us,” you should remember that the attorney’s allegiance is to the person who hired him or her. Saving a few dollars on legal fees now could easily cost you in the long run.