Three amendments to Maryland’s divorce laws will take effect on October 1, 2015 and will make the divorce process easier and less expensive for many people. The most significant is the addition of a new ground for absolute divorce. Currently, the only no-fault ground for divorce is 12-month separation. The person requesting the divorce must bring a third-party witness to court to corroborate the separation and certain other matters. Currently, under Maryland law, one party must move out of the marital home to start the 12-month separation period.
The amendment will allow parties to obtain a divorce based on mutual consent provided they have a written agreement resolving all property and spousal support issues (which neither has moved to set aside) and that there are no minor children. The agreement must be submitted to the court. Both parties must come to the divorce hearing. The amendment eliminates the requirement for a third party corroborating witness.
If these requirements are met, the parties can obtain a divorce without being physically separated under separate roofs. This can allow parties without minor children to remain in their home while they negotiate an amicable settlement and decide on the disposition of the home without either feeling compelled to move out simply to begin a lengthy separation period. This may relieve financial pressure and also open parties up to additional settlement options. In addition, the mutual consent divorce may ease the process for individuals who value their privacy and prefer not to have a third party come to their divorce hearing as corroborating witness. This ground is only available to parties without minor children. If there are minor children, then the parties will be limited to one of the existing grounds for absolute divorce.
The grounds for limited divorce are also amended. Separation, will now be a basis for a limited divorce. Current law requires that the separation be voluntary. The amendment removes the requirement for voluntariness. It will permit a spouse to move out over the other spouse’s objection and file suit immediately, without having to allege or prove cruelty.
Finally, the residency requirement to obtain a divorce will be reduced from one year to six months.