You Can’t Reconcile With Your Spouse Over the Phone

Well, that title is stretching the recent holding of Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals, but it was technically the basis of their recent family law ruling. The Court held that extremely intimate phone conversations between a separated husband and wife did NOT have the same legal weight as actually getting back together in a physical sense, and did not prevent a divorce. So marital relations over the phone are not the same as physical marital relations, at least in the eyes of the law.

That ruling defeated the wife’s attempt to deny her husband a divorce, and restart the one-year separation time period required for a divorce in Maryland. To get a divorce in Maryland, you must be separated (not cohabitating under the same roof and not engaging in any marital relations) for one full year before you file your divorce action. For more on the “grounds” needed to get a divorce in Maryland, read our Free Legal Consumer Guide explaining all you need to know. For the sordid details on this case, keep reading.

In the case we are discussing, a Husband and Wife, planning a divorce, had been physically separated for over a year. They were not living together and not engaging in marital relations, at least physically. However, they had been engaging in numerous conversations over the phone (and via text message) of an extremely intimate nature. If they had been actually doing the things they talked about, it would have most certainly counted marital relations, and would have invalidated their one-year separation time period.

The Court found that these private graphic conversations did not reach the definition of “marital relations” and the Court would not go so far as to say the parties had cohabitated. The Court generally said that as long as there is no intimate physical contact, there are no marital relations under the law, and therefore no cohabitation.

The Wife argued that the nature and tone of the numerous conversations and texts should have counted as reconciliation. She argued this was virtually the same thing as a physical act. She felt the one-year separation countdown should have been restarted. If she won, the husband would be forced to re-file for divorce now and go through the whole process again. The Husband’s winning argument was that phone conversations do not equal marital relations or cohabitation, and therefore you cannot reconcile solely over the phone.

You may wonder why in the world the wife would care enough about this argument to take it all the way to the appellate courts? That cost her a good bit of money. And ultimately, even if she won, the husband would just avoid any intimate conversations with her for one more year and then he would get his divorce. There would be no way to prevent that.

As you might suspect, the answer involved money. If the wife had been able to stay technically married for a longer time period, she would have been entitled to more money from retirement plans and such, and therefore this case was actually an investment that didn’t pay off for her.

A good general rule to remember is to follow the money when trying to figure out why a particularly unusual case gets a lot of attention in the Courts. And another good general rule – don’t just talk the talk if you don’t plan on walking the walk! 

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Andrews, Bongar, Gormley & Clagett is one of the oldest and largest law firms in Southern Maryland. We have been serving clients here for over 50 years. We have more attorneys and a larger staff than most other local law firms, so we can handle a wider variety of legal matters. Each attorney concentrates his or her practice in a few key areas, so you can be assured of the expertise you need.

 

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