The Maryland legislature made some pretty major changes to Maryland’s divorce laws in 2015. The new laws took effect October 1. Any divorce action filed after that date is subject to these new laws. We will discuss the biggest change to Maryland divorce law in this post, and some other changes in a future post.
The biggest change is the so-called “mutual consent” law. Even if you have been planning a divorce under the old laws, you may want to look at the new “mutual consent” law and see if it fits your situation. The hope from legislators and attorneys is that it will reduce the amount of fighting among divorcing couples.
Before now, Maryland really had no such thing as a “no fault” divorce. There are many grounds (read “reasons”) for getting a divorce in Maryland. You can read about all of them in our Free Legal Consumer Guide to Divorce in Maryland.
Most of the grounds for a divorce involve blaming your spouse for doing some wrong act. If you wanted to get a divorce for any reason that did not involve blaming your spouse for something, your “ground” for divorce was a one-year separation.
In the “old days”, we would tell clients to separate to start the process of divorce. One spouse would have to leave the marital home. Then we advised our clients to use the one year forced separation time to work on your separation agreement. If you have all the legal details wrapped up in an agreement, the court would usually adopt your agreement into your divorce order when you went to court. This meant you – and not some Judge you never met before – would be in control of your future.
But it also meant you had to wait one full year before even filing your divorce. And then the courts may take months to actually hear the case. Most other states went to a 6 month separation period long ago. Maryland just never did, even though it was proposed in the legislature many times.
Maryland has now changed that. We now have something relatively close to a “no fault” divorce, but only if you meet certain criteria. You no longer have to wait a full year to get your divorce finalized. You can now get a divorce without waiting a full year, if you:
- Have no minor children with your spouse. If you have minor children in common, this new law does not apply to you.
- Have a signed agreement addressing the issues of alimony and property. It must be signed by each spouse.
- You must both be present at the hearing when the Court is asked to grant the divorce.
So is this a good thing? Generally, it is long overdue. However, some lawyers and Judges do not like the law because it treats couples with minor children differently. Why should it? If you have an agreement and the kids are safe and happy, shouldn’t you be able to file for your divorce now?
Another interesting aspect is that there is no requirement that you physically separate. Therefore, you could have a divorced couple living in the same house. This may be a nod to the modern realities of the housing market, where couples may not be able to move out and sell their house. But it will undoubtedly create some interesting and uncomfortable situations when former spouses become roommates. I suspect we will see some problems arise that could be prevented by forcing the divorcing couple to live apart.
One key thing to keep in mind is that this does NOT mean you get a quicker hearing date. You are just allowed to file your claim without waiting the year. But you will still wait on the court to schedule the hearing in its usual (slow) process.
The wheels of justice still grind slowly. But now you get to start them grinding a lot more quickly than you used to.