A number of states require couples to have fault grounds for divorce—in other words, legal reasons that justify ending the marriage based upon the bad acts of a spouse. Common fault grounds for divorce include adultery or physical abuse. The public policy reason behind requiring fault grounds is to discourage couples from ending a marriage impulsively when they might otherwise have been able to make the marriage work. Maryland has several fault grounds for absolute divorce (termination of a marriage).
The goal of preserving marriages whenever possible is a laudable one, but sometimes a couple understands that, despite the absence of wrongdoing on the part of either spouse, the marriage needs to end. Fortunately, Maryland also provides the option of “no fault” divorce grounds. Historically, Maryland’s no fault divorce grounds required the couple to live “separate and apart” for a time period, most recently twelve months, before even filing for the divorce. This could prove to be problematic if the couple was intimate with each other or spent a night under the same roof during that period of time since that would restart the twelve-month clock.
Until recently, there was no option for couples who simply wanted to end their marriage without alleging fault and without a lengthy separation (and the expense of maintaining separate households during that time). Then, in 2015, Maryland introduced the option of a mutual consent divorce.
Mutual consent divorce allows Maryland couples to file for divorce without alleging fault and without a waiting period. The couple is not required to live apart for any period of time; in fact, if they choose, they can remain in the same household throughout the divorce process. Initially, mutual consent divorce was available only to couples without minor children in common; however, in 2018, Maryland streamlined the process by making it available to parents as well.
As the name implies, mutual consent divorce requires that the couple be in agreement. They must agree not only upon the need for the divorce, but they must also agree upon its terms. In order to be granted a mutual consent divorce, the couple must have a written, signed marital settlement agreement that:
Typically, the parties sign an agreement containing all these necessary provisions in advance of a scheduled hearing at which an absolute divorce will be officially granted. At the hearing, the couple must affirm that they still want the divorce.
There are many advantages to mutual consent divorce: it is faster, and usually less costly and hostile, than a litigated divorce. It also offers couples greater control over the terms of their divorce judgment than they would have in a trial.
Mutual consent divorce may be simple in concept, but it is not necessarily easy in practice. In order to reach the point where a couple can request a mutual consent divorce, they must have worked through all of the issues related to their marriage. A couple may be in broad agreement—for instance, that they will divide their property equally and share custody of the children—yet struggle to define the details of how to implement these concepts into a workable plan. Fortunately, there are options available to help facilitate resolution for couples who struggle to reach agreement on the details.
Couples who have difficulty ironing out the details of their divorce settlement agreement on their own may be able to negotiate more effectively with the help of attorneys. There are also alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options, such as mediation and Collaborative divorce, which are geared toward facilitating resolution. Attorneys may also be quite beneficial during each of these ADR processes. As part of all these options, whether negotiation, mediation, or collaboration, a formal written contract, or marital settlement agreement, is prepared for each party to sign.
Reaching agreement is typically the most difficult part of a mutual consent divorce. Once you reach agreement, your divorce hearing will usually be scheduled before a magistrate or family court judge within about 45 days following the filing of your divorce complaint and supporting documents.
At Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield, we recognize the value of crafting a mutually-agreed upon marital settlement agreement, and we are experienced in all the dispute resolution techniques to facilitate agreement. We work to help clients reach an agreement on their own terms, yielding a result that not only meets their needs but conserves their resources—both emotional and financial. We are seasoned negotiators and litigators, with creative insights into the process of reaching resolution and a keen tactical approach geared toward problem solving. Our singular focus is achieving our clients’ goals.
We invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield and schedule a consultation to discuss your individual situation and learn how we can help you with your Maryland mutual consent divorce.