A Guide to Divorce in Maryland
If you are getting a divorce in Maryland, it’s critical to understand what many of the basic rules and procedures are so that you can have a better idea of what you will go through.
You can find answers to many of your questions below, but you should also get information through other sources such as a family law attorney, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have gone through a divorce, and online resources to help you deal with the financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll face along the way.
- The differences between limited divorce, annulment and absolute divorce
- What are the grounds for divorce in Maryland?
- What kind of divorce is right for you
- What is the process of filing for divorce in Maryland?
- Completing proof of service in Maryland
- Can you file for divorce online in Maryland?
- Filing for divorce in Georgia without using a lawyer
- How much will it cost?
- How long does it take to get a divorce in Maryland?
- Should I retain the services of a certified divorce financial analyst?
- Bifurcation of marital status in Maryland
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Maryland?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between limited divorce, annulment and absolute divorce
Married couples can end their marriages by divorce or by annulment in Maryland. A limited divorce, also known as a legal separation is also allowed. It does not end the marriage but allows for several actions to take place regarding a division of property, alimony, child support and so forth.
Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
Limited Divorce. A limited divorce does not end a marriage. Instead a couple remains legally married while living apart from each other. In this instance, neither spouse can remarry or have sexual relations with another person. If sexual relations take place, then adultery has been committed.
A court may grant a limited divorce even if an absolute divorce is sought. It is generally used when a couple does not yet have grounds for an absolute divorce, they are in need of financial relief and/or they cannot settle their differences privately.
Limited divorces require that grounds must be stated and must include either voluntary separation, desertion, cruel treatment and excessively vicious conduct.
When granted, a decree of limited divorce is issued that documents the date of separation and makes decisions about custody, child support, alimony, and the use and possession of property.
Annulment. An annulment means that legally a valid marriage never actually existed. Some people prefer an annulment over a divorce for social or religious reasons.
There are grounds for annulment that must be proven before an annulment can be granted. They include:
- A spouse coerced the other to get married (duress)
- A spouse defrauded the other to convince him or her to get married
- A spouse is mentally incapable of getting married
- A spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of the marriage
- The spouses are more closely related than first cousins
- One spouse is under 18, unless the underage spouse is 16 or 17 and had parental consent or the underage spouse is 15 and pregnant and had parental consent
To get an annulment a Complaint for Annulment must be filed in the circuit court for the county where the spouses live. After the complaint has been served on your spouse, you will need to testify in front of a judge prior to the annulment being granted. This is where you will need to prove your grounds for annulment.
It should be noted that an annulment can take place even if children were born during the marriage. A judge can also decide child custody, support and property issues the same as in a divorce.
Absolute Divorce. This is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, each spouse goes their separate way and they are free to remarry after a final decree is issued.
What are the grounds for divorce in Maryland?
Maryland is both a no-fault and fault-based state when it comes to citing grounds for divorce.
The only no-fault ground for divorce in Maryland is a 12-month separation. Unlike many other states where irreconcilable differences can be cited as a no-fault ground, in Maryland the 12-month separation is the only recognized alternative.
There are also seven fault-based grounds that can be cited for divorce as well. You or your spouse will need to go to court to prove one or more of them before a divorce can be granted. Those fault-based grounds include:
- Excessively vicious conduct
- Desertion by way of leaving a marriage without consent of the other spouse for at least 12 months
- Permanent and incurable insanity with confinement to a mental institution for at least three years
- Conviction of a crime resulting in a sentence of three or more years
- Voluntary separation for at least 12 months
Understanding what your divorce options are
Aside from the decision to get a divorce, the single most important decision you will make is the type of divorce.
You see, there are only two ways that you reach a final resolution:
- You and your spouse agree
- A judge decides
That’s it. Those are the only two ways to get a divorce in Maryland.
The type of divorce sets the frameworks for how you get to a final resolution. The process you and your spouse choose sets the tone and shapes the outcome of your divorce.
I hope you’ll keep in mind that there is no single correct answer or “best option” when it comes to divorce. Every divorce is unique and each process has its own benefits depending on the dynamic and the goals of your divorce.
Here are the types of divorce:
Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes, however, it’s the only viable option. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.
That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: There is far more explanation that goes into the types of divorce. This simply scratches the surface. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Maryland?
You can pursue many kinds of divorce in Maryland, But the basic process is pretty much the same no matter type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information
When it comes to gathering the information you need, it’s imperative to be organized and proactive. This will give you the best chance at receiving the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Not only will this ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process, but it will also save you time, anxiety, and money (which you’ll want to save for the next parts of your divorce).
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
Complete the initial paperwork
You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start the divorce process in Maryland. Which forms you need to complete will depend on the circumstances of your divorce. If you are working with an attorney, they will assist you with the process and make sure that all the forms you need are filled out and that they are done so correctly.
Many counties have forms that are unique to their jurisdiction, although the forms may be similar throughout the state and in many cases may be used for any county in the state. It is best to check with your attorney or with the courthouse in the county where you plan to file your paperwork.
You can see many of the commonly used forms here.
File your forms
If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct and will file them at the clerk of the court where your spouse resides. If your spouse has moved out of state, then you can file in your county of residence. In an uncontested divorce and if your spouse consents, you can file in your own county as well.
You will need to pay a filing fee when you submit your documents. Fees vary by county but generally run about $200. If you qualify, you may be able to have the filing fees waived.
Completing proof of service in Maryland
When the complaint is filed the court clerk will also issue a Writ of Summons as well. Both the complaint and the summons must be served on your spouse through a formal means known as “service of process.”
Maryland law provides several ways this can happen.
It can be delivered to your spouse by anyone over 18 who is not the plaintiff.
A county sheriff or a private process server can also complete proof of service as well. Both will charge a fee for this service.
Copies can also be delivered by U.S. mail with return receipt requested. The defendant will need to sign for the delivery which is then used as proof that service was completed. In this case, someone other than the defendant must also mail the paperwork.
A defendant has a specified amount of time to respond to the complaint. If he or she lives in Maryland, they have 30 days. If they live out a state, the time limit is 60 days. A defendant who lives out of the country has 90 days to respond.
Can you file for divorce online in Maryland?
You must file for a divorce in Maryland with the Circuit Court in the county where either you or your spouse lives or in the county where the defendant works. You do have the option of filing by mail, but you cannot file online.
You may, however, use online resources to assist you in filling out some of the initial paperwork. For this, we recommend 3 Step Divorce.
3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.
They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.
From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:
- $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
- Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
- Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
- Library of free tools and resources
- Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
- Immediate access to completed forms
- Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)
3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).
You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.
Better yet, you can Start Your 3 Step Divorce NOW (as low as $84/month).
Filing for divorce in Maryland without using a lawyer
If you and your spouse can agree on all the terms of your divorce, you can go through the process without using a lawyer in Maryland. An uncontested divorce means that you have reached agreement on things like a division of assets, child custody and support, alimony, and other important issues.
You will need to give the court a ground for the divorce and also submit a separation agreement that both you and your spouse agree to before a judge will certify your divorce. You will need to meet residency requirements as well.
If you still have some unresolved issues, you can also use the services of a mediator, as long as both you and your spouse agree on this option. Over the course of one or more sessions, a mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things between you.
Once these issues are resolved, a mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding and you will file this document with the court as part of your divorce process. Going this route saves time, money and stress instead of retaining a lawyer to represent you.
How much will it cost?
You will need to pay a filing fee when you submit your documents. Fees vary by county but generally run about $200. If you qualify, you may be able to have the filing fees waived.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process.
If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more. In some cases, a judge may require a couple to go through mediation as part of the divorce process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Maryland?
It depends on several factors. The length of time a divorce takes varies county to county. The length also depends on the grounds being cited.
There is no waiting period before you can file an absolute divorce in the case of adultery, cruelty, or misconduct. But there are waiting periods for desertion, voluntary separation, criminal convictions, and insanity grounds for divorce.
After filing in an uncontested divorce, the process takes about two to three months. In a contested divorce, if there is no appeal, your divorce will be final 30 days after the judge signs the final decree.
Should I consider using a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Divorce is complicated enough without trying to reach critical decisions when you may not understand all the consequences of your actions. To help you better understand the benefits of working with a divorce financial specialist, take a look at our article What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).
Bifurcation of marital status in Maryland
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.
The downside of this is that bifurcation can result in two trials, slowing down the overall process and costing both sides more money.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Maryland?
If someone wants to divorce another person in Maryland, as long as grounds and requirements are met, there is no way to stop the process.
But if spouses reconcile before the divorce is final, it is possible to file a motion to dismiss that will withdraw your complaint if you are the petitioner. If a defendant has already filed a response, then the motion to terminate will be more complicated and will require both parties to request a motion to dismiss.
What is a divorce decree?
There are two types of divorce decrees in Maryland; an absolute divorce decree and a limited divorce decree. In some cases, it is referred to as a final judgment or a judgment of divorce.
An absolute divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
A limited divorce decree is issued in cases of legal separation. A limited divorce does not end a marriage, but the limited decree resolves a number of issues such as child custody and support, spousal support and a division of assets.
What is a divorce certificate?
Also known as Verification of Divorce, this document has less information than a decree but provides proof that a divorce has been finalized.
For information on how to obtain a Verification of Divorce, go to the Maryland Department of Health website located here.
Changing Your Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
Name changes are granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are accepted with all US organizations and agencies as evidence of your name change.
Having a court order does not mean that your name change has taken effect yet. You need to contact all of your organizations to request that your records are updated.
It’s time-consuming to contact each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- Online dating
- And a whole lot more