Separation & Divorce

Facing separation and divorce is a difficult time in anyone’s life. At this time, like no other, there are tremendous stresses on you, your spouse, and your children. It is important to understand the separation and divorce process so that you can navigate through the system as easily and quickly as possible. The attorneys at WHFL are available to help you through this process, but below you can find some of the basic laws in Maryland regarding this issue.

Separation

One of the most frequent answers to the question, “Are you separated?” is, “Well, not legally.”
There is great confusion about when and under what circumstances a separation occurs. A separation occurs when you and your spouse no longer live together under the same roof and no longer have marital relations. There does not need to be anything in writing, although it often helps, and you do not need to notify the court that you have separated. Once one of you moves out, a separation has begun and lasts for as long as you stay separated and do not resume marital relations.

A desertion occurs when one party moves out of the marital home (or sometimes just the marital bedroom) without just cause and, like a separation, stays away.

Types of Divorce

In Maryland, there must be legal grounds in order to obtain a divorce. Before we talk about that, however, you need to understand the two types of divorces under Maryland law — limited and absolute. A limited divorce permits the court to obtain jurisdiction over you and your spouse and address certain limited issues such as alimony, custody, child support and distribution of personal property. If you obtain a limited divorce, you are still married and could not get remarried. An absolute divorce permits the court to address all issues relating to the dissolution of your marriage and grant a final divorce.

Grounds for Divorce

As we said, you must have grounds for a divorce to obtain a limited or absolute divorce. The most common grounds are mutual consent, one-year separation, desertion, and adultery. [In 2011, Maryland eliminated the twelve month voluntary separation and two-year separation grounds for divorce and created a new one-year separation ground for divorce — thereby eliminating the voluntariness requirement.] Mutual consent is a new ground for divorce established in 2015, and requires four conditions: no minor children in common, a written settlement agreement covering both alimony and property rights that they submit to the Court, neither party asks the Court to set aside their written settlement agreement, and both parties must appear at the uncontested divorce hearing.

Mutual consent gives the court jurisdiction to grant an absolute divorce.  A separation or desertion give you grounds for a limited divorce if you have been separated for less than 12 months, and for an absolute divorce if more than 12 months. For adultery, you can file for an absolute divorce immediately upon learning about your spouse’s adultery. Sometimes, when a party does not yet have grounds for an absolute divorce (e.g., a separation for less than 12 months) it is necessary to file for a limited divorce just to give the court jurisdiction to consider support and custody issues. We help you make a decision about how to proceed after meeting with you, evaluating the facts of your case, and advising you about the options you have at that time.

Uncontested Divorces

An uncontested divorce can occur in several ways. If you and your spouse have no property together, no children, and want nothing from each other, your case would probably be uncontested as there is nothing to discuss or divide. You could also, however, have an uncontested divorce even with the most complex property division issues, contested custody, and any number of other disputes about the dissolution of your marriage. This occurs when you reach agreement on all of these issues and prepare and sign a Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. In fact, that is the goal in every case. This agreement addresses every conceivable issue between you and your spouse and makes even the most hotly contested case uncontested. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, and some cases never do, but our goal in every case is to reach that agreement so that the parties can proceed to the divorce without the necessity of a trial.

Contested Cases

Unfortunately, no matter how hard the parties may try to avoid it, some cases end in a trial. While this is not the preferred course, if the parties have any unresolved issues between them, the only way to reach a conclusion is to have a trial and let the court decide any remaining disputed issues. Once that is done, however, the parties are divorced and can move on with their lives.

Issues to Resolve

Some people do not realize how many issues there are to resolve when parties separate and divorce. We are here to help you address all of the areas that could be in dispute between you and your spouse. This includes support and custody, valuation and division of real and personal property, determination of non-marital interests, division of retirement assets, and more. Once you are divorced, it is often impossible to go back and address and unresolved issue, so it is vitally important to make certain that everything is addressed before the divorce is concluded.