It is not unusual or even uncommon for couples to seek an uncontested divorce. Often, even when a couple is in the middle of getting a divorce, they can still agree more than disagree. For amicable couples who can agree on the terms of a divorce, an uncontested divorce settlement may be the best option.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Maryland uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Maryland Defined
Like many states, Maryland has created a separate fast-track divorce process for couples seeking an uncontested divorce. Under the Maryland uncontested divorce fast track, a mutual consent divorce is available for spouses without children. For spouses with children, however, an uncontested divorce can be more complicated.
Instead of seeking a mutual consent divorce, couples with children can seek an uncontested divorce by filing for a normal divorce and agreeing to the terms via a marital settlement agreement. Regardless of which process is used, Maryland courts will generally resolve uncontested divorce filings more quickly than contested filings. In general, judges need to hear less evidence and make fewer rulings in uncontested divorces making them easier and less costly for couples seeking a quick divorce.
Requirements for Seeking a Maryland Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Maryland, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Maryland divorce attorney or family lawyer.
Couples seeking any type of divorce in Maryland must meet the state’s divorce residency requirement. If the grounds for the divorce (see next paragraph) occurred outside this State, a party may not apply for a divorce unless one of the parties has resided in this State for at least 6 months before the application is filed.1
Divorcing couples must also demonstrate that grounds exist (meaning: provide a reason) for divorce. Maryland hassix at-fault grounds for divorce: (1) adultery, (2) desertion, (3) conviction of one spouse of a felony, (4) insanity, (5) cruelty, and (6) excessively vicious conduct. While these at-fault grounds may be used in an uncontested divorce setting, they are generally not preferable because they are more likely to become contested.
Maryland also recognizes a no-fault category of divorce. As explained above, if no children were born of the marriage, spouses seeking a divorce can get an absolute divorce immediately based on mutual consent and the execution of a written marital settlement agreement. In a mutual consent divorce, both spouses must also attend a final hearing before a judge.2
For spouses with children, a no-fault absolute divorce can be granted only if the spouses have been living separate and apart for at least twelve-months.3 Unfortunately, the lengthy waiting period is a symptom of the slow liberalization of Maryland family law. In the event that you and your spouse want an immediate legal separation while waiting for the absolute divorce separation period to elapse, you and your spouse may seek a limited divorce on the ground of separation.4
Finally, the spouses must agree on the terms of the divorce. In general, this is most commonly accomplished via the creation of a legally-binding marital settlement agreement. Marital settlement agreements describe the terms of a divorce including custody, support, and property settlement. A settlement agreement is distinct from a separation agreement, which simply describes an agreement to live separate and apart. A complete marital settlement agreement will include provisions on all of the following issues:
- Division of the property the couples shared (this would include the marital residence, vehicles, and pets);
- Division of any debt obligations between the couple jointly;
- The effect of any tax consequences of the divorce;
- Spousal support (also known as alimony or spousal maintenance);
- Payment of attorneys’ fees and costs (in uncontested divorces, and
- If applicable, child custody, visitation and parenting plans, and child support.
In general, the court will approve any marital settlement agreement so long as the terms are fair. The most commonly altered segments of settlement agreements are child-related matters. Because Maryland courts are under a continuing obligation to look out for the best interests of any children involved in the relationship, the court may adjust visitation arrangements or child support payments as it believes is necessary.
On Spousal Support and Settlement Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A settlement agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed settlement agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any settlement agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Maryland
Once you and your spouse have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is as follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- The first step for any spouses who will not be using an attorney to assist them in filing for divorce is to prepare the required divorce paperwork and decide on the terms of a marital settlement agreement. The Maryland Courts’ website has a set of state-approved divorce forms for couples to use in filing for both contested and uncontested divorces.5
- Next, the couples should determine how to file for divorce. Spouses should file their divorce paperwork in the family court division of the circuit court in the county court in which either spouse resides or in which the non-filing spouse works.
- The filing spouse must file a complaint for divorce. That spouse must then serve the non-filing spouse either by county sheriff, process server, or by any competent adult who is not a party to the lawsuit.
- The non-filing spouse should then file an answer admitting the allegations in the divorce complaint and request a hearing on the marital settlement agreement.
- Prior to granting a decree of divorce, the court may require all parties to participate in an educational seminar that is designed to educate parents about the effects of divorce on children.
- The presiding judge will approve the parties’ marital settlement agreement at the hearing.
For more information on divorce in Maryland, you can visit the Maryland Courts website.6
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- Md. FAMILY LAW Code Ann. § 7-101.
- Md. FAMILY LAW Code Ann. § 7-103(a)(8).
- Md. FAMILY LAW Code Ann. § 7-103(a)(4).
- Md. FAMILY LAW Code Ann. § 7-102.
- Complaint for Absolute Divorce: Instructions for Completing Dom Rel 20, MARYLAND COURTS.
- Family Law Assistance, MARYLAND COURTS