For various reasons, including religious concerns, health insurance concerns, pension and social security benefits, and even a desire to eventually reconcile, couples in troubled relationships may opt for legal separation rather than divorce. To help you through the process, we’ve compiled a list of five important facts about legal separations in Maryland.
There’s No Such Thing as Legal Separation in Maryland
In Maryland, “legal separation” is not an official status. Once married, you’re either married or divorced.
The term “legal separation” in Maryland closely relates to a court-ordered “limited divorce.” A limited divorce can be requested on the following grounds:
- Desertion (moving out of the family home)
- Excessively vicious conduct
- Total separation for at least 12 months (more on this later)
Only Absolute Divorce Actually Ends a Marriage
The only way to legally end a marriage in Maryland is through an “absolute divorce.” This type of divorce:
- Ends your marriage
- Divides your family assets
- Assigns custody and visitation of your children
- Terminates spousal inheritance rights
- Allows a judge to order alimony (where appropriate)
- Allows either party to remarry—once the divorce is final
- Lets you resume the use of your former name
A limited divorce, on the other hand, does not terminate a marriage. Neither does it grant you eligibility to remarry. Instead, it establishes certain legal responsibilities while the parties are separated.
A Separation Agreement Can Offer Temporary Reprieve Before the Final Divorce Decree
When couples decide to live apart in anticipation of divorce, they may execute what is known as a separation agreement, marital settlement agreement, or property settlement agreement.
These terms refer to the same thing: a legally binding contract that establishes some ground rules as to who is paying what bills, who has the right to use what property, including the marital home, and the like. The agreement can also address issues relating to alimony, child support, and child custody.
Once the separation agreement is incorporated into the judgment of absolute divorce, it becomes a court order and is enforceable by the court’s contempt powers. If the agreement is not incorporated into the judgment of absolute divorce and your partner violates the terms of the agreement, you can still seek monetary damages. Ultimately, though, it’s easier and quicker if the agreement is incorporated into the final divorce decree.
If it seems like a separation agreement is a good option, Maryland residents should remember that it is critical to put the agreement in writing and appropriately document and notarize it. Without documentation, a court has no power to enforce the contract.
Voluntary Separation is a No-Fault Ground for Absolute Divorce
In Maryland, it’s possible to pursue an absolute divorce based on a “no-fault” ground. A popular no-fault ground is voluntary separation, whereby couples file for divorce after living separate and apart for 12 months non-stop. “Separate” and “apart” simply mean that the parties didn’t engage in sexual relations or live together during that period.
Mutual Consent is a Newer No-Fault Ground for Absolute Divorce
As of October 1st, 2015, mutual consent is a valid no-fault ground for divorce in Maryland. That means that as long as you and your partner have agreed to end the marriage peacefully and amicably, a judge cannot stand in your way. Also, there is no waiting period for this ground.
Do You Want to Know More About Legal Separation in Maryland? Contact Petrelli Previtera Today.
Regardless of why you have decided to separate from your spouse, it is usually an emotionally taxing time. The decisions you make now will affect you and your family far into the future. At Petrelli Previtera, our divorce attorneys understand how difficult this time is for you, and we are dedicated to helping you achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family. To discuss your specific situation, contact us today.