In all legal proceedings, including divorce, you have the right to represent yourself, according to Maryland law.
Pro se, which is Latin for “on your own behalf,” is the legal word for acting as your own attorney. Not everyone should advocate for himself. It’s critical to realize that if you represent yourself, you can be giving up significant rights. You must find out whether your spouse has a pension, retirement account, insurance, or any other significant assets before determining whether to start your own divorce. You will permanently give them up if you don’t request them during the divorce.
To find out how your spouse feels about the divorce and the aforementioned difficulties, you should speak with your spouse if at all feasible before you unilaterally file for divorce. Your next step in the divorce process will be determined by this.
The law places restrictions on the court’s ability to grant divorces (sometimes referred to as the question of jurisdiction, or “may this court hear this divorce?”). In addition, the legislation specifies when a divorce case comes into the court’s purview. This article will explain to you this and all about divorce in Maryland.
Different Kinds of Divorce In Maryland
Absolute divorce and limited divorce are the two types of divorce in Maryland. An absolute divorce, on the other hand, is essentially just another name for what most other states refer to as a simple divorce (or “dissolution of marriage”): a legal procedure that dissolves a marriage and permits either spouse to remarry. In Maryland, a limited divorce is comparable to a legal separation used in several other jurisdictions.
Although it doesn’t officially dissolve the marriage, it does provide judges the authority to issue rulings on matters like child custody or support payments up to the time when a couple is ready (and qualified for) an absolute divorce or until they decide to reconcile.
A “divorce absolute” ends the marriage for good.
An individual must state grounds—or reasons—for the divorce when filing for an absolute divorce. Among the grounds for an absolute divorce are:
- a one-year break
- Mutual agreement
- excessive punishment and cruelty
- cruel behavior
Either party may remarry following the entry of an absolute divorce decision. The judgment of absolute divorce may also decide on alimony payments from one ex-spouse to the other, child custody and support arrangements for any minor children, and whether to allow one spouse to use their old name.
A prenuptial agreement or other written contract, as well as the Marital Property Act, govern the division and distribution of any jointly owned property. After the property has been divided, neither party may assert ownership of the other’s property. After an absolute divorce, neither party may continue to inherit property from the other as spouses.
A limited divorce, also known as a legal separation, is when a married couple separates legally. A limited divorce DOES NOT mean that the marriage has been dissolved forever. The pair chooses to continue living separately while still being legally married. In a limited divorce, neither spouse is allowed to be married again or engage in sexual activity with another person. If one spouse engages in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse, adultery has been committed.
Prior to achieving an absolute divorce, a limited divorce is not necessary. Even if an absolute divorce is requested, the court may, in some cases, give a restricted divorce.
People who (1) lack the legal justification for an absolute divorce, (2) require financial assistance, and (3) are unable to resolve their issues amicably typically choose a restricted divorce. Get additional information on the distinction between an absolute and restricted divorce.
Options for Filing Divorce In Maryland
You can choose from a variety of methods for doing the process depending on whether you’re applying for absolute or restricted divorce:
Hiring a lawyer
If you hire a lawyer to represent you in your absolute or limited divorce, your attorney will handle all of the paperwork preparation and filing on your behalf, in addition to handling all other divorce-related legal issues. An expert family lawyer in Maryland will be able to represent your interests and have a thorough understanding of the procedure.
Instead, you could decide to handle every aspect of the divorce yourself, including obtaining the necessary paperwork, filling it out, submitting it to the court, and moving forward.
There is also a middle ground for those wanting an absolute divorce: filing for divorce online. You can get the completed Maryland forms from an online divorce agency, which will also essentially guide you through the procedure. Some of these businesses will even take care of submitting the divorce paperwork to the court on your behalf as an added service.
On top of that, these choices can be modified. If you have a few questions or want an outside legal opinion on any arrangement you make with your husband, for example, you might conduct the divorce primarily on your own but consult a lawyer when necessary (more on that below).
The steps are detailed below with an emphasis on absolute divorce and with DIY filters in mind. However, the decision you make about how to continue will be influenced by your resources (including the amount of time and money you have available) and the particulars of your case (such as whether you have complex assets or difficult issues around your kids). The least expensive alternative will be a DIY divorce, but it may take more time and focus on ensuring that all the prerequisites have been satisfied and the rules have been strictly adhered to.
How To Fill Divorce In Maryland
There are a few criteria you must be aware of and some preparation you must complete before you can officially apply for divorce in Maryland.
Maryland’s Residency and Jurisdictional Requirements
In contrast to most other jurisdictions, Maryland often doesn’t require you to reside there for a certain amount of time before you may submit a petition for an absolute divorce there. Instead, on the filing date, you or your spouse must merely be present in the state and regard it as your permanent residence. There is only one situation in which you must satisfy a longer residency requirement: If the legal grounds for your divorce (more on that below) were established in a state other than Maryland, one or both of you must have resided in Maryland for at least six months immediately prior to the filing date.
However, if your absolute divorce order is going to include provisions on custody of any children, those children typically had to have lived in Maryland with a parent for at least six months prior to the filing date (or from birth if they were fewer than six months old). There are intricate exceptions to this norm regarding the court’s “jurisdiction” over child custody (i.e., the judge’s power to make decisions on that matter), but they can be challenging to establish. Therefore, if you have kids who aren’t old enough to be residents of the state, you should see a qualified family lawyer.
Getting and Preparing Maryland’s Divorce Forms
A Complaint for Absolute Divorce (Form CC-DR-020) and a Civil Domestic Information Report must be filled out if you are the one initiating the divorce process (the “petitioner”) (CC-DCM-001). Other paperwork will be necessary depending on what you’re asking for (or what’s in your agreement), as well as whether or not certain requirements apply to you. Think of this:
- You must include a copy of your duly-signed Marital Settlement Agreement when requesting a divorce by mutual consent (Form CC-DR-116).
- You should attach any agreements you and your spouse have made on particular subjects, such as the division of your property or a parenting plan, even if you and your spouse don’t have a comprehensive agreement that would be eligible for a mutual consent divorce.
- You must include a Financial Statement if you’re asking for alimony (without a preexisting agreement on the subject).
- You must also provide a Financial Statement and a copy of the relevant Child Support Guidelines Worksheet if you are asking for or have already agreed to pay child support.
If you’re submitting a limited divorce petition, certain of the forms, including the complaint, will be changed. The Maryland Court Forms website has the forms, which you can find and download. On the same page, there is also a Forms Finder tool and a free Maryland Court Help program that will walk you through a series of questions to assist you in filling out the forms. Or, if you hire a divorce service online, the firm will send you the necessary paperwork already filled out. The court will accept your forms, according to several of these providers.
Divorce: Fault And No-fault
A court-ordered divorce marks the end of a marriage. However, there are two sorts of divorce that can be requested in Maryland: absolute and limited. When the court grants an absolute divorce, it indicates that the marriage is no longer valid, that the parties are free to remarry, and that all property claims are dropped.
A limited divorce, which the court may grant, is one that simply serves to formalize the separation and provide support; it is not permanent, does not permit remarriage, and does not end property claims (although it may resolve these claims).
It’s a common misconception that you need to be legally separated in order to get a divorce, but you are not required to get a limited divorce in order to get an absolute divorce. That is not the situation. Since divorce is a legislative action in Maryland, the law is found in subsection 7 of the Family Law section of the Maryland Annotated Code.
Your marital status is proven to have never existed through annulment. You won’t be married. The court will rule. If you wish to dissolve your marriage, you should give it some thought before going down this path because the courts rarely grant an annulment. The legitimacy of children and the maintenance of marriage’s sanctity may be factors considered by the court, but they are not the only ones. Due to these factors, a court will consider awarding a divorce rather than an annulment.
Grounds Of Divorce In Maryland
You, your spouse, and the state will be the three main parties in your divorce. These three parties were also key characters in your marriage. You can’t just call it quits and ride off into the sunset on your charger. You must provide the state with a valid reason why your relationship should be allowed to end, among other legal reasons. The basis for your divorce is known as the cause. The laws governing appropriate grounds have been passed by each state over the years.
Divorce, separation, and annulment can be granted for a variety of reasons. There are six (6) reasons a judge may give an absolute divorce in the case of marriage:
If any of these allegations are true, the marriage will be completely dissolved (look to each ground in order to find out how to prove that ground). You can get a divorce on multiple grounds, such as adultery and desertion.
There are four (4) grounds for a court to give a limited divorce in the instance of one:
- cruelty (to the complaining party’s child or to the complaining party themselves);
- extreme cruelty
- defection (both hypothetical and real);
- voluntarily parting ways.
Even though any one of these grounds is sufficient for a limited divorce, your marriage will not end as a result of this type of divorce. You must either ask for an annulment or an uncontested divorce in order to achieve this.
There are two different sorts of annulments in Maryland. The marriage is deemed void ab initio, or from the beginning, as if it never existed, in the first type. Although it’s a good idea to do so, you are not required by law to go to court to have the marriage declared void from the start. A marriage must be “completely invalid” in order to be regarded as annulled in the case of a dissolution of marriage.
Two things define a marriage that is “completely void”:
- The marriage has a flaw making it vulnerable to collateral attack (proof that the marriage never happened or shouldn’t have happened) even after the passing of one or both spouses;
- There is no need for direct action or legal process to cancel (although the latter may be desirable).
Such a flaw would be, for instance, if your spouse had a legal marriage to another person but hasn’t yet had a divorce from them. This spouse is deemed to be the end of your marriage.
The union of “blood” relatives is another unsatisfactory union.
A minor between the ages of 16 and 17 or younger than 16 may not marry unless the requirements of Family Law Code 2-301 are met, according to another regulation.
The term “voidable” refers to the second kind of annulment. A voidable marriage can only be dissolved by having it declared void in court. In some circumstances, it is possible to get an annulment in Maryland under the guise of a divorce.
A marriage may be ruled null and void in addition to being annulled for bigamy and lack of consent if the parties did not truly wish to wed or if they were incapable of doing so, such as in cases of insanity, intoxication, fraud, or duress.
Despite the fact that annulments may be issued, the court prefers to see the couple’s divorce rather than give an annulment. In addition, an annulment is required to declare any marriage specifically forbidden by law invalid.
A married person engaging in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse is said to be adulterous. Both fellatio, which the law defines as sodomy, and cunnilingus, which is not typically regarded as adultery, are not grounds for divorce in Maryland. The male organ must penetrate the female organ during the sexual encounter, but the encounter need not be “completed” in order for it to be considered sexual.
How To Prove Adultery
Since names, dates, locations, paramours, and other details must be made public, it is likely impossible to have a pleasant adultery case. You’re lucky if your spouse has stopped caring about what you know and is honest about the affair. Then, you can find your spouse in flagrante delicto, which means that you have caught him or her doing something improper, and you might not need to worry about hiring investigators. To support your claim in court, a detective might still be necessary.
The majority of adultery cases are proven by circumstantial evidence. Thus you must prove that your spouse was disposed of and given a chance to commit adultery.
Filing and Serving Your Maryland Divorce Papers
The court clerk’s office in the county where you reside or where your spouse (the “defendant”) resides, works, or owns a business, should receive three copies of each completed form once you have gathered and completed them all. (Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. Sections 6-201, 6-202 (2022)) You could submit your forms electronically, depending on the jurisdiction.
Unless you apply for and are granted a fee waiver, you will be required to pay a court charge to file the divorce papers. A limited or absolute divorce complaint must be filed for $165. (under the fee schedule effective September 2021). A “Writ of Summons” will be issued by the court clerk upon the filing of the complaint. The next step is “service of process,” in which you hand your spouse (the “defendant”) the summons and a copy of every divorce document you’ve filed.
This typically entails having a sheriff deliver the documents personally or mailing them certified mail with a return receipt. In rare situations, such as when you can’t locate your spouse, a judge could permit you to utilize an alternative means of service. When your spouse is doing time in prison or the military, there are additional restrictions. Ask the court clerk for more information. The person who served the documents on you should provide you with documentation of service and submit it to the court.
Answering the Divorce Complaint
If you’re the spouse who was served with the divorce papers and are the defendant, you must respond to the complaint for divorce within a specific amount of time (30 days if served in South Carolina, 60 days if served out of state, or 90 days if served out of the country). In the case of a mutual consent divorce, make sure to check all the boxes indicating that you accept the allegations in the complaint and that you’re requesting the court to award the remedy outlined there.
(If you want to assert different divorce grounds than the plaintiff did, you might alternatively file a Counter Complaint for Absolute Divorce, but it would imply that your divorce would be in dispute.)
A request to continue with a default divorce based on the complaint may be made by the plaintiff if you fail to submit an answer by the deadline.
Finalizing Your Maryland Divorce
Whether or not you and your spouse have a marital settlement agreement will determine the following steps in your divorce. If the court doesn’t automatically schedule the hearing for you after you apply for an absolute divorce by mutual consent, you may need to submit a Request for Hearing (Form CC-DR-059).
In order to set up a hearing for an absolute divorce by mutual consent, some counties may demand that both spouses sign and submit a joint request.
You must appear at the hearing as the petitioner’s spouse, provide documentation of your Maryland residency, and respond to any further inquiries. Your agreement will be reviewed by the magistrate, who will specifically check that any clauses pertaining to minor children are in the children’s best interests. T
The magistrate will approve the settlement and issue the final decree of absolute divorce unless there are issues (or one spouse requests that the agreement be put aside).
You’ll likely go through discovery in a disputed divorce, which is the procedure used in law to obtain information. This evidence may include witness testimony and expert opinions from real estate appraisers or custody evaluators. On matters like petitions for interim help, you might also need court hearings.
The judge will order you to participate in mediation if you and your spouse dispute over who gets to have custody of the children or how often they get to see them unless doing so would be improper in your particular situation. You will need to go to trial and have a judge decide those problems for you if you don’t resolve your disputes at some time, usually with the aid of attorneys, a mediator, or both.
Getting Legal Assistance With Your Maryland Divorce
One of Maryland’s Family Court Help Centers can provide you with additional information and help about divorce in Maryland. The majority of these centers offer free legal assistance. Additionally, Maryland Legal Aid offers counsel and legal representation to clients who meet the requirements for their services based on need.
Unless you apply for and are granted a cost waiver, you will need to pay a court charge to submit the divorce documents. A limited or absolute divorce complaint must be filed for a charge of $165. (under the fee schedule effective September 2021).
According to our experience, uncontested divorces typically take two to three months to complete after filing, whereas contested divorces might take up to eighteen months. If there is no appeal and your divorce was contested, it will be the final thirty days after the judge writes the final decree.
If you or your spouse lives in the county where the circuit court is located, file your divorce papers there. Create enough copies of your paperwork for your spouse while also ensuring that you retain at least one copy for yourself. An original complaint must be filed by one spouse, and the other must receive a copy.
Regardless of whether the couple chose to end their marriage voluntarily or not, grounds exist to petition for an absolute divorce as long as they had been apart for a continuous year. Adultery, abandonment, and cruelty are just a few of the fault-based grounds for divorce that are unaffected by this new law.