Coming Fall 2023: Groundbreaking Changes to Maryland Divorce Law
By: Z Family Law
Maryland’s divorce laws are about to change in significant ways that will impact couples, families, and divorce professionals throughout the state.
On October 1, revisions to the Maryland family law code will take effect on October 1, and among them are three key provisions that will redefine separation, eliminate fault-based grounds for divorce, and repeal the court’s authority to grant a limited divorce. These changes are the result of SB 0036 Family Law - Grounds for Divorce, a bill passed by the Maryland state legislative body in April 2023, and signed into law by Governor Wes Moore on May 16, 2023. To find out how these changes may affect you, keep reading.
Three key changes to existing divorce laws redefine separation and eliminate legal blame
With the passage of SB 0036, Maryland joins 39 other U.S. states in becoming a “no fault” divorce state. Previously, the law required couples filing for divorce to do so on the basis of either: a 12-month separation; mutual consent (where couples must agree in writing on all divorce-related matters); or a specific “ground” for divorce. Most of these grounds for divorce were fault-based, meaning that it placed the blame for the breakdown of the marriage on one party, such as adultery, abuse, desertion, or insanity. Under the new law, couples no longer need to cite fault-based grounds for divorce. Instead, they can cite irreconcilable differences or file on the basis of a six month separation (rather than a 12 month separation as the law previously required).
Notably, in addition to reducing the period of separation required, the new law also stipulates that couples can be considered separated even if they continue to live in the same physical household so long as they are “pursuing separate lives.” This significantly reduces the burden for many couples, especially those with limited means, who previously may have found it difficult to maintain two separate residences while waiting to file for divorce.
The third key change SB 0036 introduces is that Maryland will no longer offer couples the option for a “limited” divorce – essentially a legal separation, where a couple’s legal marital status remains unchanged, but courts can address issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and shared financial obligations. When the new bill goes into effect, Maryland courts will only have the authority to grant couples an absolute divorce.
Groundbreaking changes will have a significant impact on Maryland couples considering or pursuing divorce
Removing requirements around fault-based grounds makes it quicker and easier to get divorced in Maryland, simplifying the process, and removing barriers that sometimes keep couples trapped in unhappy, toxic, or even abusive circumstances. It may also help minimize conflict between spouses and reduce the social stigma around divorce, by recognizing that the breakdown of a marriage is not always the fault of one or both parties. Further, the new process allows couples and families to maintain more privacy and keep their sensitive personal business out of court.
Nonetheless, fault-based factors will still play a role in Maryland divorces. Things like adultery, abuse, and insanity can affect the division of assets, child custody arrangements, alimony, and child support.
On the other hand, the repeal of the limited divorce process could cause problems for couples who are separated but not yet ready to proceed with divorce for whatever reason because courts can no longer weigh in on temporary issues like supporting children or maintaining households.
Contact an experienced Maryland divorce attorney to learn more
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, or are already in the midst of a divorce matter, and want to learn more about how these changes might affect your circumstances, contact the compassionate, experienced attorneys at Z Family Law today by calling (301) 388-5528 or emailing email@example.com.