Maryland, a state renowned for its fault-based approach to family law, has recently enacted a groundbreaking change to its divorce legislation. The revised law, SB 36, eliminates the previous “limited divorce” provision and introduces significant modifications to the grounds for an “absolute divorce,” making Maryland a no-fault divorce state for the first time.
The Previous Law
Under the previous law, Maryland courts could grant a limited divorce based on grounds such as cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, desertion, or separation without cohabitation. A limited divorce did not sever the marriage but allowed the complaining party to live separately from their spouse. The court had the authority to grant a limited divorce for a fixed or indefinite period, and it could be revoked upon the joint application of the parties. Issues like custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and the use of the family home could be addressed in a limited divorce. On the other hand, an absolute divorce could be obtained on grounds like adultery, desertion, a conviction of a felony or misdemeanor, separation of over 12 months, insanity, cruelty, or excessively vicious conduct.
The New Legislation
The recent Maryland amendment, SB 36, brings about sweeping changes to the divorce law. It repeals the provisions for limited divorce entirely, consolidating the process into a streamlined system for absolute divorce. Under the revised law, the court can grant an absolute divorce based on two primary no-fault grounds: six-month separation or irreconcilable differences
The first ground allows couples who have lived apart for a continuous period of six months, without interruption, to seek an absolute divorce. Even if the parties reside under the same roof or the separation is pursuant to a court order, they will be considered to have lived separately and apart for the purpose of meeting the six-month separation requirement.
The second ground, irreconcilable differences, permits the granting of an absolute divorce when one party states reasons for the permanent termination of the marriage that cannot be resolved. This provision recognizes the importance of personal autonomy and allows individuals to seek a divorce without having to prove specific fault-based grounds. The law does not define what will qualify as irreconcilable differences.
Notably, the amendment does not modify the provisions for obtaining an absolute divorce based on mutual consent. Couples can still seek an absolute divorce by submitting a written settlement agreement that addresses alimony, property distribution, and the care, custody, access, and support of minor or dependent children. The parties will still have to attend a short hearing and validate their agreement on the record in court.
Changes Promote Fairness & Efficiency for Those Going Through a Divorce
Maryland’s recent change to its divorce law through SB 36 marks a significant milestone in the state’s family law landscape. By repealing the limited divorce provision and introducing new no-fault grounds for absolute divorce, the amendment simplifies the dissolution process, grants couples greater control, and encourages amicable resolutions. These changes align with Maryland’s simpler approach to family law, promoting fairness, efficiency, and personal autonomy for individuals navigating the challenging divorce process.
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