Put in the simplest terms, divorce is the legal process that ends a marriage. But as anyone who has ever considered or experienced a divorce knows, little about this process is simple. Just as marriage is more than a legal relationship, divorce is more than a legal process. Divorce impacts your finances, your relationship with your children and others, and touches nearly every aspect of your life in some fashion.
When you are standing on the brink of divorce, you are in unfamiliar territory and facing an unfamiliar process. At Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield, we provide you the advice, tools, resources, support, and advocacy you need to navigate the divorce process and we work tirelessly to pursue your objectives in connection with the next chapter of your life.
Part of the reason that divorce feels so overwhelming is that few people know what to expect. Most people going through a divorce have never experienced one. We find that understanding the language of divorce, and having a predictive roadmap for the process, helps our clients feel more in control of how this new chapter unfolds.
What most people think of when they hear the word “divorce” is actually called an absolute divorce in Maryland. An absolute divorce dissolves the marriage, equitably distributes marital property, and frees the parties to marry others if they so choose. However, like most things in life, timing is everything, and sometimes a client has not yet met the criteria (called “grounds”) required to obtain an absolute divorce. In recognition that a person might need relief from the court when grounds for an absolute divorce do not yet exist, or that a person may not desire an absolute divorce, there is also a legal concept known as a limited divorce, which is similar to what people often call “a legal separation.”
A limited divorce is a weigh station of sorts that parties sometimes visit on their way to obtaining an absolute divorce. A limited divorce is helpful when spouses cannot agree on certain pressing issues and need a court to issue an order regarding alimony, child support, custody or continued health insurance coverage, but when the parties are not yet eligible (or do not want) to file for an absolute divorce. Following the entry of a limited divorce, spouses remain legally married even if they live apart. Limited divorces do not permit spouses to marry other people. Moreover, if one spouse dies during a limited divorce, the other still has a legal right to inherit from the spouse who passed away, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary.
While some people begin their divorce process by filing for limited divorce and then later amend the divorce complaint when they are eligible to file for absolute divorce, a limited divorce is not a necessary step to later file for absolute divorce.
In Maryland, divorce grounds exist that are both fault-based and no-fault. As the name implies, a fault-based divorce requires that one spouse is proven to have engaged in some conduct that justifies an end to the marriage. Fault-based grounds for divorce in Maryland include adultery, desertion, cruelty, and conviction of a crime. If one spouse asks for a divorce based on fault, the other spouse can raise certain defenses, such as denying that the grounds exist or asserting that the other spouse knew about, and forgave, the alleged bad acts. While most divorces are now granted on no-fault grounds, conduct does matter and may affect other aspects of your divorce, such as alimony, equitable distribution, and child custody.
Conversely, there are two types of no-fault divorce in Maryland. In a traditional no-fault Maryland divorce, the couple has lived separate and apart with no marital relations for 12 months. More recently, Maryland has introduced the option of mutual consent divorce, in which no separation period is required if all matters related to the marriage have been resolved in a written agreement.
Regardless of the grounds upon which your divorce is predicated, there are multiple ways to resolve the issues arising out of your marriage. The vast majority of divorces are resolved by cooperative settlement. That settlement may be reached by negotiation occurring directly between you and your spouse or through your attorneys, mediation, or by way of a process known as Collaborative Divorce. If attempts to reach a settlement are unsuccessful, your divorce will go to trial, and a judge will ultimately make a decision based upon the testimony and other evidence presented during a trial.
One of the first decisions you will make during your divorce is which lawyer with whom to work. Your choice of attorney will affect not only the outcome of your divorce, but your experience during the process. All divorce clients are unique and so are all divorce attorneys. Here are some of the traits that set the attorneys at Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield apart.
We invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual situation and learn how we can help you during every stage of the divorce process.