The Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation in Maryland

A divorce or separation is a stressful and burdensome process for everyone involved. Spouses must resolve issues like how to divide all the property they amassed during the marriage, determine who gets to live in the marital home, and decide who will gain custody of the children, if they had any. With all these choices, it is easy for tensions to rise and force a divorce to become ugly. If you need assistance dealing with a divorce or separation, you should consult with a Baltimore divorce and child support attorney. The Law Practice of Ken C. Gauvey is here to help alleviate the stress of undergoing a divorce or legal separation.

Divorce and Legal Separation Distinctions in MD

A divorce and a legal separation are not the same thing in the state of Maryland. In Maryland, a legal separation is another form of legal division for spouses. There are two types of divorce in Maryland:

  • Limited Divorce/Legal Separation – A limited divorce is a legal action where a married couple is legally separated. A limited divorce does not permanently terminate the marriage. Instead, the spouses remain legally married while living separate and apart from each other. During a limited divorce, neither spouse can remarry, or engage in sexual relations with another person.
  • Absolute Divorce – An absolute divorce permanently terminates the marriage. All marriage-related issues are resolved in an absolute marriage, leaving spouses to go their separate ways and remarry.

To obtain a limited or absolute divorce in Maryland, a married couple must fulfill statutory residency requirements. If the reason for the divorce did not occur within Maryland, the residency requirement is six months. If the reason for the divorce is based on a claim of insanity, then there is a two-year residency requirement. Alternatively, if both spouses are residents of Maryland and the reason for the divorce occurred in Maryland, the residency requirement is eliminated.

Grounds for an Absolute Divorce

When a spouse files for an absolute divorce, they must state the grounds (reasons) for the divorce. Grounds for a divorce in Maryland include:

  • Adultery – Voluntary sexual intercourse between a partner spouse and an individual that they are not married to
  • Cruel Treatment – Vicious or violent treatment by a spouse or towards a minor child of the spouse
  • Desertion – Abandonment of a spouse with the intention of terminating the marriage
  • Incarceration – A spouse was convicted of a crime and was sentenced to prison for a term of three years or more. Prior to filing for an absolute divorce, the incarcerated spouse must have served at least 12 months of their prison sentence.
  • Insanity – The spouse has been diagnosed as legally insane by a licensed medical doctor. Prior to filing for the divorce, the insane spouse must have been kept in a mental institution or hospital for at least three years.
  • Mutual Consent – The spouses do not share any minor children and they draft and submit to the court a written settlement agreement signed by both spouses resolving all issues.
  • One-Year Separation – The spouses have been living separately and apart from each other for a continuous period of one year. The spouses have not had sexual relations over the course of that year.

All property acquired by the spouses during the marriage is divided and distributed according to an agreement like a pre-nuptial or other contractual agreement. If there is no contractual agreement concerning division of property, the property is divided in accordance with the Marital Property Act. An absolute divorce decree can also provide for payment of alimony, custody of children, payment of child support, child support modification, and paternity.

Grounds for a Limited Divorce

Generally, a limited divorce is used by spouses who do not have valid grounds for an absolute divorce, require financial relief, or cannot settle differences with their spouse independently. You do not need to be eligible for a limited divorce to later receive an absolute divorce, and limited divorces may be used as a route to absolute divorce. In certain cases, a court in Maryland may grant a spouse with a limited divorce instead of an absolute divorce.

There a few grounds for a limited divorce, such as:

  • Cruel Treatment/Vicious Conduct – Malicious or violent treatment of a spouse or the minor child of the spouse
  • Desertion – Abandonment of a spouse with the intention of terminating the marriage
  • Separation – Spouses living separate and apart from each other

A limited divorce decree can establish child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), and the use and possession of property.

Work with a Maryland Divorce Lawyer Today

If you are facing a heated divorce or separation and you require assistance, you should consult with an experienced lawyer. The Maryland divorce lawyers at the Law Practice of Ken C. Gauvey can guide you through a difficult divorce or separation. Our firm has served clients in Baltimore and throughout Maryland and would be proud to serve you in your time of need. To receive a free case evaluation, contact us at (443) 692-7685.


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