What Defines a Legal Separation in Maryland?
The term “legal separation” is often thrown around when discussing the possibility of divorce; however, technically no such thing exists here in Maryland. When considering a separation, parties have the option of a “Voluntary Separation Agreement,” or a “Marital Settlement Agreement”. These agreements can be a part of a “limited divorce” which allows special circumstances for the couple in question. A limited divorce is not an absolute divorce, but can be helpful in divorce proceedings in the future. So what do all of these terms and agreements mean? Let’s look more closely at what it means to be separated in Maryland.
Grounds for Limited Divorce in Maryland
A limited divorce, or separation, can be filed for under circumstances of cruelty or vicious conduct of a spouse or child, or desertion. In these cases, a spouse can file for a limited divorce if their spouse is abusive, adulterous, etc., or has left them. A voluntary separation can also be a ground for limited divorce in Maryland, meaning both parties enter into the separation willingly. If the purpose of a voluntary separation is to obtain a no fault absolute divorce in Maryland, both parties must agree to the separation, and must stay separated for a twelve month period. During this time the couple must also live in separate homes and refrain from sexual intercourse with each other. In this case, it is not acceptable to the judge if the couple remains in the same house, but in different beds; they must live at different residences. If, after this twelve month period both parties still agree to an absolute divorce and have followed these two rules, they can file for a no fault absolute divorce. At this point, both parties must still agree to the divorce, or it can not be filed as no fault. Unlike an absolute divorce, couples who enter into a limited divorce are still married according to the law, and are not divorced until they have filed for and been granted an absolute divorce.
Benefits of Limited Divorce in Maryland
A limited divorce with a separation agreement allows for a couple to be separated, while protecting their financial assets. This type of separation helps couples to divide their assets fairly, workout alimony and child support payments, and determine who lives in their current residence. During an absolute divorce all of these issues would be determined as well, but a limited divorce with a separation agreement protects both parties prior to an absolute divorce. A separation agreement also helps the couple determine child custody and visitation before a judge, to prevent any custody issues in the future. Lastly, a limited divorce meets Maryland’s requirement for a non contested divorce, and will help divorce proceedings move swiftly once the twelve month waiting period has been met. In Maryland an absolute divorce can only be granted on the grounds of a no fault divorce if a twelve month separation has taken place.
Divorce can be complicated and add stress in an already stressful time. Limited divorce allows unhappy couples some time to spend apart and determine if divorce is the best option for them. Separation agreements can also help protect both parties, while ensuring their assets and children are looked after. If you are considering a separation and would like legal counsel, contact us at Okun/Billian PA today!