Update: As of October 1, 2023, the law regarding the grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland has changed. This article reflects the law prior to that date. If you are reading this after October 1, 2023, you may want to refer to our new article which discusses the updated law in detail.
Divorce can be a complex and emotionally draining process. It’s crucial to understand the legal grounds for divorce in your state to navigate this difficult period. In Maryland, the grounds for an absolute divorce are specifically outlined in the Md. Code, Fam. Law § 7-103. This article aims to elucidate each ground in detail.
Understanding Absolute Divorce and Limited Divorce in Maryland
Before delving into the grounds for absolute divorce, it’s essential to distinguish between an absolute divorce and a limited divorce. A limited divorce is a preliminary ruling that addresses issues such as alimony, child support, and child custody pending a final or absolute divorce. On the other hand, an absolute divorce finalizes the divorce, custody and child support, alimony, property division, and other matters. The rules for a limited divorce are defined in Section 7-102, but this article will focus solely on the grounds for an absolute divorce.
The first ground for an absolute divorce is adultery. In Maryland, if one spouse has been unfaithful, the other spouse has the right to request an absolute divorce. This ground does not require a waiting period, meaning the divorce process can start immediately after the adultery is discovered.
In the past, proving adultery was challenging. Courts often relied on indirect evidence, such as evidence of an adulterous disposition along with time and opportunity, as outlined in the landmark case Abare v. Abare, 221 Md. 445 (1960). However, it has become easier to prove adultery in recent years. Courts seem more willing to find adultery, perhaps due to the accessibility of evidence via text messages, social media posts, and other digital means. Furthermore, societal perceptions of adultery have shifted, with less stigma attached to it.
The second ground for an absolute divorce in Maryland is desertion. Desertion occurs when one spouse abandons the other without reasonable cause for a continuous period of 12 months. The desertion must be deliberate, final, and there must be no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
3. Conviction of a Felony or Misdemeanor
A spouse can file for an absolute divorce if the other spouse has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in any state or any court of the United States. The conditions for this ground are that the defendant must have been sentenced to at least three years or an indeterminate sentence in a penal institution and must have served at least 12 months of the sentence.
4. 12-Month Separation
If the spouses have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for 12 months without interruption before filing for divorce, an absolute divorce may be granted. This ground applies when both parties agree to the divorce or when one party moves out without the other’s consent.
Insanity is another ground for absolute divorce. The conditions include the insane spouse having been confined to a mental institution or similar facility for at least three years before filing for divorce. Additionally, at least two competent psychiatrists must testify that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery. One of the parties must have been a resident of Maryland for at least two years before filing for the divorce.
6. Cruelty of Treatment
Cruelty of treatment towards the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party is also a ground for absolute divorce in Maryland. This ground requires solid evidence. According to the Frazelle-Foster v. Foster, 250 Md. App. 52, 53-54 (2021) case, physical violence or threats are not necessary for establishing cruelty of treatment. Verbal and psychological abuse which “is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other” can also be considered. Given the high burden of proof, it’s advisable to hire a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer to navigate this process.
7. Excessively Vicious Conduct
Excessively vicious conduct towards the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party is another ground for absolute divorce. Though treated synonymously with cruelty of treatment by Maryland courts, it’s technically a separate ground. Just like with cruelty of treatment, the high evidentiary standards make it crucial to seek legal representation when pursuing this ground.
8. Mutual Consent
Lastly, Maryland recognizes mutual consent as a ground for absolute divorce. To qualify for this, parties must submit a written separation agreement that resolves all issues related to alimony, property distribution, and the care, custody, access, and support of minor or dependent children. Neither party should file a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing. After reviewing the agreement, the court must be satisfied that any terms relating to minor or dependent children are in their best interests.
Understanding the grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland is crucial to navigating this legal process. Whether you’re facing allegations of adultery or struggling with issues related to cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct, it’s essential to have a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer on your side. If you’re considering divorce or have been served with divorce papers, seeking professional advice can make the process smoother and more manageable. Remember, even seemingly straightforward situations like mutual consent divorces can become complicated quickly, as highlighted in our previous blog post about the importance of a lawyer for discovering hidden assets in high-income divorces.
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