Overview of Divorce Laws in Maryland
If you are considering a divorce in Maryland, it is important to understand the divorce laws and how they apply to your situation. This guide will give you the information you need to get through divorce.
Let’s get right into it:
- Equitable Distribution
- Alimony and Child Support
- Custody and Visitation
- Divorce Process
- Other Divorce Issues
Marital Property and Division of Assets in Maryland
Maryland is an equitable distribution state. This does not mean that property division will be equal but will instead be determined by what is considered fair after taking many factors into consideration.
The first step in this process is determining what is marital property in a divorce and what is separate property.
Gifts, inheritances, and assets that a spouse owned before a marriage are considered separate most of the time, although there are exceptions such as when assets are commingled.
Courts consider many factors when determining how assets should be split.
- The duration of the marriage
- The current economic circumstances of each spouse
- If alimony is being awarded or not
- The circumstances that contributed to the divorce. This is where fault-based reasons may have an impact on how assets are divided.
- The age and physical and mental condition of each spouse
- What each spouse contributed during the marriage, both financially and otherwise, to the well-being of the family
- The assets, debts and liabilities of each spouse
- The standard of living during marriage
- The education and vocational skills of both spouses
- Provisions for custody for any minor children in the marriage
- The impact of other awards the court has made such as the family use of personal property or the family home
- Other factors the court deems appropriate and should consider to arrive at a fair and equitable division of assets
Read More: Who Gets the House in a Divorce?
Maryland courts cannot divide debts between spouses in a divorce. Spouses are jointly liable if a debt is in both names, but the court cannot require either spouse to pay a joint debt.
Debts are one of the factors that are considered when determining a division of assets. Non-marital debts can be considered when determining a fair and equal award as part of a settlement.
If property received by one spouse is a gift or inheritance from a third party, then it is considered separate property as long as the gift was never commingled in a joint marital account.
But if you commingle by depositing a separate gift into a joint account, or put a spouse on title of a property, then it is likely that the asset will be considered a marital asset.
Inherited property by one spouse or the other during a marriage in Maryland is considered separate property and is not subject to equitable division during a divorce.
To protect an inheritance you receive, you can either take steps to make sure the assets are not commingled in any way or you can consider executing a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement to ensure the assets remains separate under all circumstances.
Pensions, IRAs, 401Ks and Retirement Plans
Deposits into defined contribution plans that are made with marital funds are considered marital property in Maryland. Vested pension plan benefits are also considered marital property.
If a spouse already had money in a retirement account before marriage, then those funds are considered separate property, but the spouse claiming it as separate must provide proof.
Legally splitting pensions and other retirement funds is a multiple step process. After the dissolution of marriage has been granted, an attorney or a specialized firm must create a qualified domestic relations order, more commonly referred to as a QDRO.
We’ve discovered that the easiest way to get a QDRO is with QDRO Counsel!
The QDRO must be approved by the courts and then it can be submitted to the plan administrator who must also approve it. This establishes that a spouse can be considered an alternate payee, and the retirement vehicle is then divided according to the specifics contained in the QDRO.
Most property accumulated during a marriage in Maryland belongs to both spouses and is considered marital property. To be considered separate property, a spouse must be prepared to present appropriate documentation in a divorce. The only time an asset may be considered separate is when:
- You owned it before marriage, and it remains in your name alone
- It was a gift given to one of you by a third party
- It was an inheritance
- It was included in a prenuptial agreement that prevents its inclusion
Alimony and Child Support
Alimony in Maryland
There are many types of alimony that can be awarded to a spouse in Maryland.
Temporary alimony may be awarded for a short period of time before a final divorce decree is approved.
Short-term alimony may be awarded for a limited amount of time to assist a spouse in readjusting to life after they are divorced. This helps a spouse by giving them time to go back to school or seek training or skills that will make them competitive in the job market. A spouse who has been a homemaker throughout a marriage is typically the recipient of
Permanent alimony is awarded long-term and may continue until the death of the person who receives it. It is usually awarded when one person can no longer work due to age, physical or mental illness. Permanent alimony usually ends when the receiving spouse remarries.
Judges have a fair amount of leeway when deciding what type of alimony will be awarded and for how long. Typically, they will use the following factors to guide their decisions:
- The length of the marriage
- The age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The financial needs and resources of each party
- How much time is necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him to find appropriate employment
- Investment and retirement options for each spouse
- The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party
- Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper. When a fault-based divorce is filed, a judge may consider the reason for the divorce when granting alimony.
Child Support in Maryland
The Maryland Child Support Administration (CSA) works with both parents to provide the financial, medical and emotional support their children need to grow and thrive. CSA will work to establish paternity, collect support for the child, or resolve any issues you may have with your case, even if one parent lives in another state or country.
Maryland uses an income shares model for its child support guidelines. The guidelines take into account the income of both parents, number of children, cost of health insurance for the child(ren), current child support being paid for other children, alimony being paid, alimony being received, the cost of daycare, and extraordinary medical expenses of the child(ren).
The Court has the authority to award support retroactive to the date a complaint is filed with the court. The court may give the non-custodial parent credit for any financial contribution made for the children since the filing date of the case.
Child support orders remain in effect until they are modified. A modification may be requested if a supporting parent has another child since the order was issued or other similar life events. If either parent requests a modification, the Court may consider the obligations of each parent before making a final determination.
If the noncustodial parent does not pay on time, or does not pay in full, your child support office will initiate the following automated enforcement actions:
- Withhold child support from wages and unemployment benefits, Workers’ Compensation claims, etc.
- Intercept federal and state tax refunds to pay child support arrears
- Report parents owing past-due support to credit bureaus
- Refer parents owing past-due support to the Motor Vehicle Administration for driver’s license suspension
- Intercept Maryland lottery winnings to pay child support arrears
- Garnish accounts at financial institutions
- Request the suspension or revocation of a professional or recreational license
- Deny the issuance or renewal of a passport
The child support office may also initiate contempt of court proceedings against that parent if it appears the parent has the present ability to pay support.
Custody and Visitation
Child Custody in Maryland
Like most other states, child custody in Maryland is guided by the best interests of the child as the primary factor in determining a specific plan to be put in place.
There are two types of custody and they can be granted jointly or on a sole basis.
- Joint legal custody means that both parents will have decision-making power over important issues that will affect a child.
- Physical legal custody is different and is a determination of which parent the child will live with. Joint physical custody rarely means that children will live with each parent and equal amount of time. The actual amount of time each parent spends with the children are determined by a visitation schedule that the parents can work out. If they can’t reach agreement, then the courts will step in and do so for them.
A parenting plan is required as part of a divorce settlement and any custody agreement. The plan will outline where the children will spend each day of the year, how holidays and vacations will be spent, transportation arrangements, what type of supervision is required and how it will be provided, how parents will make decisions about the children’s health, education, religious issues, extracurricular activities, and other related matters.
For the smoothest and most-amicable transition to co-parenting while separated, we recommend you try using Our Family Wizard! Their simple yet effective app is a one-stop-shop for all necessary services to make the perfect parenting plan.
If parents disagree about an issue related to the child’s upbringing, then the parent with primary physical custody will make the decision. In some cases, judges will order that one parent has sole power to make certain decisions while the other parent has sole power to make other decisions.
Substance abuse can have a significant impact on child custody in Maryland. A court will not allow a parent to take custody of a child if there is a danger to the child, as there would be with drug or alcohol abuse being present.
Complete denial of parental rights is rare in Maryland even if sole custody is granted due to the other parent’s substance abuse. The court may grant visitation rights, but with requirements for supervision and drug testing to ensure the safety of the child.
Bifurcation of Marital Status
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce and the second part addresses the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
Maryland does allow bifurcation in some instances, but the state’s statutes require a property division order to be made within 90 days of the divorce decree unless both parties consent to further delay.
Both spouses are required by law to disclose all assets prior to asset division so that property can be divided equitably in a Maryland divorce. This includes determining which assets are marital assets and which are separate assets.
Having accurate financial information is especially important when the court must rule on requests for child support or alimony. The judge bases the decision on who has custody of the child, as well as on the income and assets of both parents and any disparity between them.
Unfortunately, some spouses are reluctant to release this type of information and in some cases, it may be necessary to subpoena information directly from financial institutions to get the information needed. Forensic accountants are sometimes retained to also assist with uncovering all assets.
If a spouse lies on a financial disclosure document, then they may be liable for both criminal and civil penalties. The amount of those penalties will depend on the extent and severity of the falsified information and could have an adverse impact in many areas of a divorce settlement.
After a plaintiff files for divorce in Maryland, a spouse has the right to respond to the complaint. If they fail to do so, the plaintiff can ask the court for an Order of Default.
This can take place after a period of 30 to 90 days and after a good faith effort has been made to locate the spouse.
If a spouse lives in Maryland, he or she has 30 days to answer the complaint. If living out of state, the timeframe is 60 days.
You will need to appear at a hearing prior to the default being granted, but the hearing can take place even if your spouse can’t be found or chooses not to appear.
Other Divorce Issues
In divorces where domestic violence is present, any divorce actions are secondary to the immediate safety of a spouse or children who may be in immediate danger.
For this reason, if you are in immediate danger, call the police.
Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, or any other kind of harassment including those made through phone calls, mail, or social media inflicted on one spouse by the other.
Protective orders are issued in cases of domestic violence when your abuser is related to you or lives in your household. A peace order gives you legal protection from someone who is not a member of your household. Both place legal protections that keep an abuser from having any contact with you or your family members.
Cruelty or Excessive Vicious Conduct are both grounds that can be cited for divorce and both deal with abusive spouses. Using either of these as a reason for divorce matters because the court may be inclined to award child custody and split assets in favor of the spouse who is not at fault, especially when cruelty or vicious behavior are the grounds used.
Domestic violence is also an important issue when dealing with child custody. If domestic violence can be documented, then the abuser may not be allowed any custody privileges, because courts always put the best interests of children first when it comes to all issues in a divorce. In other cases, visitation may be granted, but under strict supervision and on a limited basis.
If you and your spouse are on the same plan, neither party should make any changes until a divorce settlement is reached. Maryland law also allows a judge to order one party to continue payment for health insurance coverage of their spouse until a final judgment of absolute divorce is issued.
After a divorce, the vast majority of employers dictate that a spouse may no longer remain on the other’s health insurance plan and they must seek out their own healthcare coverage.
In some instances, a settlement may include that one spouse pay for the other’s health insurance as a form of support.
As another option, an ex-spouse can apply for COBRA benefits. This is a law that protects people from losing health coverage during major life transitions. It allows you to continue with your spouse’s current coverage for up to 36 months as long as you pay the premiums.
The only drawback is that this can be very expensive because an employer will no longer cover any portion of the premium.
Infidelity and Adultery
Adultery is one of the fault-based reasons a spouse can seek a divorce in Maryland. You or your spouse will need to go to court to prove adultery took place before a divorce can be granted.
Adultery is sometimes stated as a reason if a spouse hopes to gain an advantage in child custody or obtain an order for spousal support. The court places a primary concern on the well-being of children in a marriage and if it can be shown that adultery has created a negative environment, then custody may be affected to some degree.
In some cases, adultery may also have an impact on a division of assets, especially if it can be shown that an adulterous spouse spent considerable marital assets on an affair.
Military Divorces in Maryland
The grounds for getting a divorce in Maryland if you are a member of the armed forces are the same as they are for civilians. You will need to file for a divorce in a civilian court as well and not in a military court as some people might assume.
After divorce paperwork has been filed in Maryland, copies must be served on a spouse to give him or her a chance to respond. However, when that spouse is in the military, they have certain protections afforded to them by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty. A service member may choose to waive delaying the divorce by signing off on paperwork which will then allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.
Normal property division laws apply for a military divorce in Maryland which is an equitable distribution state, but the federal government also protects military personnel through the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act that governs how military benefits are calculated when a divorce takes place. Federal laws will not allow a military members retirement to be distributed to a spouse unless the couple has been married for 10 years or more while the service member was on active duty.
Child support and spousal support are determined by Maryland state guidelines, but federal law dictates that child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemember’s pay and allowances.
In a best-case scenario, a spouse will negotiate a child custody and visitation agreement that clearly addresses deployment, relocation, and other military-related issues. If an agreement can’t be reached on child custody and visitation, the judge will consider the best interests of the child.
This can be complicated in a civilian divorce, but issues of deployment and relocation make child custody in a military divorce even more difficult.
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