Beginning on October 1st, 2023, Maryland will see a radical shift in how divorce is done in the state. On May 16th, 2023 the governor of the state signed a series of reforms to Maryland divorce laws, changing Maryland from a fault-based divorce state to a no-fault divorce state. These changes eliminate the old requirements that limited how a couple could seek a divorce, giving them the ability to separate for any reason.
The old divorce rules in Maryland
Prior to the changes that were signed into law this summer, if a couple wished to file for a divorce, they had two options, limited divorce and absolute divorce. Under a limited divorce, a couple could seek a limited separation and resolve child custody, alimony and other related issues without actually divorcing or dividing marital property. This was meant to give couples a means to test out if a divorce was the right option, and they could either terminate the limited divorce or convert it into an absolute divorce.
An absolute divorce is what we would normally associate with the term divorce, and in Maryland to qualify for one under the old laws one spouse had to prove that one of six conditions had been met:
- A 12-month separation
- A felony conviction or incarceration for a misdemeanor
- Abusive, cruel and unusual treatment towards the spouse or children.
Once one of these conditions was proven, the divorce could be granted. This meant that for many people, divorce was difficult to obtain, and it led to many more hurdles for them to separate. The only alternative easy alternative was to seek a mutual divorce, where both parties consented to the end of the marriage.
The new divorce rules in Maryland
Under the recent changes that will go into force on September 1st, there will only be one option for divorce in Maryland, the absolute divorce. Limited divorce is being removed from the law, and the requirements for an absolute divorce are being entirely changed. Instead of needing to prove the former fault grounds for divorce, now there are two things that a spouse must do:
- A six-month separation, which requires that they live separate and apart, even under the same roof, or
- Express irreconcilable differences in their complaint for termination of their marriage.
The preexisting mutual divorce also remains, if the parties agree and wish to divorce, however with these new laws it will be much easier for a single spouse to obtain a divorce than before.
While this does eliminate fault-based marriage, it does not mean that fault cannot be considered during other aspects of the divorce. Judges may still consider fault in determining child custody or support, alimony arrangements, and property distribution.