Grounds for Divorce in Maryland
Before you can get divorced from your spouse, you must prove to the court that there are “grounds for divorce”, or a reason for the divorce to be granted. Maryland laws state what grounds are acceptable, and what you must prove to meet those grounds.
“Fault” Grounds vs. “No Fault” Grounds
Grounds for divorce fall under one of two categories - “fault” grounds or “no fault” grounds. Maryland is one of the few states that still recognize fault grounds for divorce, where the court finds that one party is solely responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. The vast majority of divorces, however, are granted on no fault grounds, where the court finds that neither party is entirely responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.
Why does it matter for legal purposes? Fault grounds can have an impact on alimony and division of marital property, as the court can consider fault as one of several factors in making a decision on these issues. In limited circumstances, the court can consider fault in making a custody determination, if the basis for the fault has an impact on the best interest of the child.
As with many states, Maryland requires that at least one party to a divorce be a resident of the state before you can file for divorce. If the grounds for divorce occurred in Maryland, then the resident only needs to be currently living in Maryland. If the grounds for divorce occurred outside the state, then the resident needs to have lived in Maryland for at least six months prior to someone filing for divorce.
Absolute Divorce vs. Limited Divorce
The State of Maryland recognizes two types of divorce, an “absolute divorce” and a “limited divorce”. An absolute divorce results in a final divorce order, and the court will resolve all issues relating to your marriage, including alimony, property division, child custody and support, etc. After a final divorce, you and your spouse are free to legally remarry.
A limited divorce is a legal action where your separation is supervised by the court, and the court can address issues relating to your marriage, including alimony, property division, child custody and support. People often file a claim for limited divorce when they don’t yet have grounds for absolute divorce in Maryland, but need some immediate action on alimony, child custody or support.
Grounds for Absolute Divorce in Maryland
The court may grant an order of absolute divorce on one of the following absolute divorce grounds:
A 12-month separation is one of the no fault grounds for absolute divorce. Before filing for divorce, you and your spouse must have lived separate and apart without cohabitation (living together or having sexual relations) and without interruption for 12 months.
Mutual consent is a newer no faults ground for absolute divorce. A court may grant an absolute divorce on the ground of mutual consent, without a waiting period, if you and your spouse have signed a written agreement that resolves all issues arising out of your separation and divorce, including alimony, property division, child custody and support, etc.
Adultery is one of the fault-based grounds for divorce. There is no waiting period for adultery. If you claim and prove that your spouse committed adultery, or vice versa, the court can grant the divorce immediately.
To prove adultery in court, you do not need to show actual intercourse occurred. However, you must prove that the offending spouse had both the disposition and the opportunity for intercourse outside of the marriage.
Examples of an adulterous “disposition”: public displays of affection, such as hand-holding, kissing, and hugging, between the guilty spouse and the non-spouse.
Example of an adulterous “opportunity”: proving that your spouse was seen entering the non-spouse’s apartment alone in the evening and not coming out until the next morning.
Desertion (Actual Desertion or Constructive Desertion)
Desertion is one of the fault-based grounds for absolute divorce. To prove desertion in court, you must show that the desertion has continued without interruption for 12 months without interruption before filing for divorce, that the desertion was deliberate and final, and that there is no expectation of reconciliation.
There are two types of desertion, actual and constructive:
Actual desertion occurs when one party unjustifiably abandons the other or actually ejects the other spouse from the home (or the marital bedroom).
Constructive desertion occurs when one party is forced to leave the home (or the marital bedroom) because of the misconduct of the other.
Cruelty of Treatment and Excessively Vicious Conduct
Cruelty and Vicious Conduct toward a party or minor child are fault grounds for divorce. There is no waiting period for a divorce based on cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct toward. To prove these grounds, you must show that your spouse's actions were sufficiently egregious that they seriously impair your health or permanently destroy your happiness, and there is no reasonable expectation that you and your spouse will reconcile.
Conviction of a crime
Conviction is one of the fault-based grounds for divorce. You are eligible for a divorce if, before you file, your spouse has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in any court of the United States, has been sentenced to at least 3 years in prison, and has served at least 12 months of that sentence.
The court has the authority to award an absolute divorce on the ground of insanity if your spouse has been confined in a mental institution, hospital, or similar institution for at least 3 years before filing. The court also must find that your spouse’s insanity is incurable with no hope of recovery. Finally, the residency requirement for an insanity ground is increased to 2 years.
Grounds for Limited Divorce in Maryland
The court may grant an order of limited divorce on one the following limited divorce grounds:
The court has the authority to grant you a limited divorce on separation grounds if you and your spouse are living separate and apart without cohabitation or interruption.
Desertion (Actual Desertion or Constructive Desertion)
To prove desertion in a limited divorce case, you must show that the desertion was deliberate and final, and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
Cruelty of Treatment or Excessively Vicious Conduct
A limited divorce can also be awarded on the grounds of cruelty or vicious conduct, if you or your child were the victim and there is no hope of reconciliation.
While these grounds for limited divorce are similar to the grounds for absolute divorce, it is important to note that there is no specific duration of separation needed to prove a limited divorce. Any time period will justify the claim for limited divorce.
Because limited divorce on grounds of desertion and separation do not require a specific time period before filing, spouses often file for limited divorces to get into the court process, particularly if they need to obtain other relief such as alimony.
Defenses to Divorce in Maryland
There are certain defenses to a divorce claim if you or your spouse can prove one of the fault grounds. “Recrimination” is when the party who is guilty of committing fault in the marriage claims that the other person is also guilty of fault. “Condonation” is when the party who is guilty of committing fault in the marriage claims that the other person forgave the bad conduct.
Neither is an absolute defense to a fault-based divorce claim, but both recrimination and condonation can be considered by the court in determining whether to grant a divorce on a fault ground. If the defense is successful, then the court will not grant a divorce on a fault ground; however, it can still grant a divorce on a no fault ground.
Contact a Maryland Divorce Attorney
If you are facing a separation or divorce in Northern Virginia, we can help. The divorce attorneys at Wayside Legal have years of experience in assisting people with grounds for divorce, alimony and division of marital property. Contact a North Bethesda divorce lawyer today.