Every lawsuit needs a legal basis. Divorce is no different; the legal basis for filing a divorce is commonly called “grounds for divorce.” Another good way to think of “grounds for divorce” is as a good enough legal reason for a court to grant a divorce. If you don’t have grounds for divorce (or a good enough legal reason) in Maryland, a Maryland court will not let your case move forward.
In some states, the only grounds needed to file for divorce is an allegation of “irreconcilable differences,” or a similar phrase. In other words, the only legal basis needed for a divorce is an assertion by the spouses that they cannot make the marriage work. Filing for divorce in Maryland requires something more.
Before launching into a discussion of the various grounds for divorce in Maryland, it’s important to understand that there are actually two types of divorce in Maryland: limited divorce and absolute divorce. In a limited divorce, the couple is still legally married, but the court can make certain orders regarding their relationship (such as child custody, child support and spousal support (alimony), requiring one spouse to keep the other on their health insurance, and division of personal property).
A limited divorce is the closest thing Maryland has to a legal separation—at least in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). The IRS allows an individual to file as single or head of household if they are divorced or legally separated (one who has a limited divorce granted in Maryland is deemed “legally separated” by the IRS). An absolute divorce is what most people think of simply as “divorce.” A couple might seek a limited divorce because they don’t yet have grounds for an absolute divorce or are not entirely certain they want to end their marriage.
As suggested by the title of this blog post, there are several grounds for divorce in Maryland. Three of them apply to limited divorce, but all of them can also be used to file for an absolute divorce.
In order to use separation as grounds for your divorce in Maryland, you and your spouse will need to be residing in separate households with the intention that you will not resume living together as spouses. If you are seeking a limited divorce, there is no time requirement for the separation.
However, if you want to file for absolute divorce, you will need to live separately from your spouse, continuously and without interruption or cohabitation, for twelve months. If you live together again, even briefly, or have sex with one another, the twelve month separation clock resets to zero. You do not need to allege that your spouse was at fault for the marriage ending to be granted a divorce on separation grounds.
Maryland spouses can also seek either a limited divorce or an absolute divorce on the grounds of cruelty and/or excessively vicious conduct: physically or mentally abusive behavior on the part of a spouse. If your spouse abuses either you or your minor children, and you believe that staying married endangers your health, safety, or well-being, you can seek a divorce on this ground. There is no required waiting period to file for divorce on the ground of cruelty or of excessively vicious conduct.
Desertion, either actual or constructive, is a ground for limited or absolute divorce in Maryland. Actual desertion is what it sounds like: one spouse abandons the other with the intent to end the marriage.
Constructive desertion calls for a little more explanation. One spouse “constructively” deserts the other when they engage in behavior that is so harmful to the other’s health, safety, or self-respect, that the other spouse is forced to leave the home to preserve their well-being. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can give rise to constructive desertion, but so can things like refusing to have sexual intercourse for a year or forcing a spouse to live with abusive in-laws.
Adultery is a ground for absolute divorce. To be granted a divorce on the grounds of adultery, you must be able to prove both that your spouse had the disposition and the opportunity to commit adultery. That might include, for example, texts between your spouse and an affair partner regarding a rendezvous that took place while you were out of town. Examples of proof are many, and a competent attorney should be consulted to determine if particular facts are sufficient proof of this ground. There is no waiting period to file a divorce on the ground of adultery.
You may also be granted an absolute divorce in Maryland if your spouse is in prison. Your spouse must have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than three years’ imprisonment. In order to be granted a divorce on the grounds of imprisonment, your spouse must already have served at least one year of their prison term at the time you file for divorce.
Insanity can be the legal basis for an absolute divorce in Maryland, but the requirements for filing for divorce on insanity grounds are strict. Your spouse must be permanently and incurably mentally ill, and two psychiatrists must attest to the diagnosis. In addition, your spouse must have been confined to a hospital or institution for at least three years at the time you file for divorce. In other words, you may not file for divorce on insanity grounds simply because your spouse has been taking medicine for bipolar disorder or depression.
Mutual consent divorce is the newest ground for divorce in Maryland. Originally limited to parents without minor children together, any married Maryland couple can now file for a mutual consent divorce. Mutual consent divorce does not require any type of fault on the part of either spouse. There is also no requirement that the spouses live apart for any period of time. You and your spouse may be granted a mutual consent divorce even if you live under the same roof.
In order to obtain a mutual consent divorce, you and your spouse need to have resolved all issues in your divorce, including child custody and support, spousal support, and division of property. Your marital agreement must be memorialized in a document signed by both of you.
Sometimes spouses desire a mutual consent divorce, but worry that they cannot reach agreement on their own. You can get the support you need to reach agreement through a variety of dispute resolution options.