How to File for Divorce in Maryland

Amy Pennza
Ripped up Photograph

Being familiar with Maryland family law will help you as you navigate through divorce proceedings, and can make the process less stressful. Before filing papers to end a marriage in Maryland, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least a year in order to satisfy the residency requirement.

Grounds

Maryland allows both fault-based and no-fault divorce. Couples in Maryland can file a no-fault divorce as long as they have lived apart for at least one year. You can also file a fault-based divorce under the following grounds (page 14):

  • Infidelity
  • Abandoning the other party
  • Separation for at least one year
  • Cruel treatment
  • Mental illness where the spouse is institutionalized for at least three years
  • Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor with a minimum three-year prison sentence

How to File

To get started, you must file certain forms in the correct court. To begin the proceedings, you will need to file the appropriate forms with your local court.

  • The filing spouse, known as the plaintiff, must file a Complaint for Absolute Divorce and Civil Domestic Case Information Report.
  • Once the plaintiff files the complaint with the court, she must also serve a copy of the complaint, along with a summons, on the defendant spouse. "Service of process" involves delivering a copy of the initial divorce paperwork to the opposing party so he can file a response. In Maryland, the plaintiff can serve the defendant by county sheriff, private process server, or regular mail with return receipt. If the plaintiff chooses to mail the complaint, a third party must fill out the return receipt form because it acts as an affidavit of service.
  • Once the defendant receives copies of the paperwork, the court receives notification that the defendant has been properly served. From there, the defendant has 30 days to file a response to the complaint. Out-of-state defendants have 60 days to file a reply. After your spouse replies, the court will set a hearing date.
  • Before the hearing, you may also need to fill out additional forms based on your case. These might include financial disclosure forms, a child custody plan, or alimony request.

You will need to bring a witness to the hearing to confirm your statements. Generally, this is someone you know well that has frequent contact with you and can verify the facts of your case, including any year long separation. At the hearing the judge will decide on all the issues in your divorce and issue a decree if the grounds for divorce have been proven sufficiently.

Dividing Property

Maryland follows the equitable distribution rule for property division. The courts consider the following factors to decide how property should be divided in divorce cases.

  • Each party's economic and non-economic contributions to the family
  • Both spouses' property interests
  • The financial situation of each spouse
  • The reason for the breakdown of the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • Age of each party
  • The physical and mental status of each spouse
  • The date and method of acquisition of marital property
  • Whether either party contributed to the acquisition of property held by the parties as tenants by the entirety
  • Whether the court has awarded alimony relative to use of the family residence
  • Any other factor the court considers important

Alimony

In some cases, the court might order one spouse to pay alimony to the other. Courts consider the following factors to determine whether alimony is appropriate:

  • The recipient's ability to support herself
  • How long it will take the recipient to obtain the education or training needed to find a suitable job
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • Each side's financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage
  • The reason for the breakdown of the marriage
  • The ages of the parties
  • Both spouses' physical and mental condition
  • The paying spouse's ability to meet his or her own needs while paying alimony
  • Any agreement between the parties
  • Whether alimony would impact a spouse's eligibility to receive medical assistance benefits

Maryland judges can award three different types of alimony: temporary, rehabilitative or indefinite. The judge will choose the type that is most appropriate given the facts of the case.

Child Custody and Support

When kids are involved, the court must make important decisions regarding their welfare, including where they will live and which parent must pay child support.

Sole and Joint Custody

Maryland courts break custody down into legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the decisions parents must make about their child, such as schools and doctors. Physical custody refers to where the child physically lives. The courts incorporate these elements into two types of custody arrangements:

Sole Custody

In a sole custody arrangement, the child lives with one parent and that parent is responsible for making all the decisions related to the child.

Joint Custody

In this type of custody arrangement, both parents share physical custody and have joint authority to make decisions regarding their child.

Awarding Custody

When deciding how to award custody, courts look at the following factors:

  • Each parent's physical and emotional ability to take care of the children
  • The character of each parent
  • The parents' wishes
  • Any agreement between the parents
  • The possibility for keeping natural family relations intact
  • The child's wishes
  • The financial well-being of the child
  • The child's age, health, and gender
  • The residence of each parent and impact on visitation
  • The length of separation between the child and either parent
  • Whether either parent has voluntarily abandoned the child or surrendered custody rights

Child Support

The court considers the following factors when deciding how much child support is appropriate:

  • Any marital settlement agreement between the parents
  • Whether the custodial parent has other children to support
  • The child's quality of living before the divorce
  • Each parent's finances
  • Each parent's age and health status
  • Each parent's current and future income
  • The parents' willingness to allow visitation with the opposite parent
  • The non-custodial parent's ability to maintain two households
  • The child's educational needs
  • Child's age and health
  • The parents' wishes for joint or sole custody

Maryland offers a child support calculator so you can try to estimate how much you may get or have to pay.

Moving Forward

As you prepare your documents, it's important to consult with a family law attorney if you have questions. Although some people can handle their case, divorce has a tremendous impact on your lifestyle and finances. If you make mistakes in your initial paperwork or sign an unfavorable settlement agreement, it can be expensive to correct your errors down the road.

How to File for Divorce in Maryland