Can I Get a Divorce in Maryland?


You would think this is an easy question to answer, but it is not. Did you know that there are two types of divorce in Maryland? There is a limited divorce and an absolute divorce. There are subtle similarities, as well as distinct differences between the two. An absolute divorce terminates the marriage, terminates the right of survivorship for inheritance purposes, and allows the parties to remarry. 

On the other hand, a limited divorce is more of a legal separation on which the court has put its stamp of approval. A limited divorce cannot determine the division of marital assets, i.e., real and personal property. It can only address the issues of custody, child support, alimony, use and possession of the family home and family use personal property, and attorney’s fees. All other property issues must be resolved in an absolute divorce. 

You may be wondering why someone who is looking to get divorced does not just file for an absolute divorce. Unfortunately, the answer is quite complex. In Maryland, to be legally entitled to a divorce, you must prove that you meet one or more statutory grounds for divorce. The grounds for a limited divorce include: 

• Cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct to the complaining spouse or of a minor child of the complaining party 

• Desertion or voluntary separation, where the parties are living separately and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation. 

The grounds for an absolute divorce are slightly different. The court may grant an absolute divorce on the following grounds: 

• Adultery 

• Desertion lasting for 12 months without interruption, it is deliberate, and there is no expectation of reconciliation. 

• Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor prior to the filing of the application for divorce, where the defendant has served 12 months or been sentenced to at least three years. 

• A 12-month separation, where the parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation or without interruption before the filing of the application for divorce. 

• Insanity, if: the “insane” spouse has been confined in a mental institution, hospital, or other similar institution for at least three years before the filing of the application for divorce; the court determines from the testimony of at least two physicians that the insanity is incurable and there is no hope of recovery; and one of the parties has been a resident of Maryland for at least two years before the filing of the application for divorce. 

• Cruelty of treatment or excessively vicious conduct toward the complaining party or a minor child of the complaining party. 

• Mutual consent, if the parties execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement signed by both parties that resolves all issues relating to alimony, distribution of property, and the care, custody, access and support of minor or dependent children. 

Notice that there are certain time requirements that must be satisfied in an absolute divorce that are absent from a limited divorce. Thus, to answer the question above, some people may file for a limited divorce rather than filing for an absolute divorce because they cannot meet the statutory time requirements. But do not worry if the court only grants you a limited divorce—there is still an avenue to get an absolute divorce. Either party can file a supplemental complaint for absolute divorce when grounds for the absolute divorce become available. This means if at the time of the limited divorce you have only been separated for six months, then you must wait another six months before filing based upon the grounds of 12-month separation. Timing is everything. 

It is important to note that not all grounds for absolute divorce have time requirements. For example, if you can prove your spouse has committed adultery, then you can immediately file for an absolute divorce. 

Ultimately, getting a divorce in Maryland can be incredibly intricate and complex. If you are contemplating divorce, it is strongly encouraged that you consult with an attorney who can help you understand your options and your rights. 

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Brooke O’Connell is an associate attorney at The Law Office of Robert Castro and handles family law and personal injury cases. She is a life-long resident of Southern Maryland, and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. While in law school Ms. O’Connell competed on the Alternative Dispute Resolution Team, winning first place at the International Academy of Dispute Resolution Northeastern Mediation Tournament in 2014. After graduating, Ms. O’Connell returned home and began a 2-year judicial clerkship with the Honorable Amy J. Bragunier, Administrative Judge for the Circuit Court for Charles County. Ms. O’Connell is a Member of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA), is the Charles County Circuit Representative for the Young Lawyers’ Section of the MSBA, is the At-Large Chair of the Charles County Bar Association, and is a Member of the American Inn of Court of Southern Maryland. In addition, she is a Member of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco and donates her time as a Mock Trial Coach for local high school students.