Mutual Consent Divorce
In Maryland couples may obtain an expeditious, final divorce by jointly filing a comprehensive agreement resolving all issues regarding the disposition of marital property and alimony, if any. Parents of minor children must also file a parenting plan addressing legal decision-making, residential custody and parenting time, as well as child support. In Montgomery County the Court may schedule a divorce hearing within 60 days of filing, and only one spouse is required to appear in court at the hearing. (By comparison, the District of Columbia requires a six-month separation period for an uncontested divorce.) Courts will generally incorporate such agreements in the Judgment of Absolute Divorce, making them enforceable by contempt. This is the least costly and most amicable means to address the many issues that may arise following the divorce.
Under Maryland law either spouse may immediately sue for Limited Divorce on the grounds of voluntary separation, desertion, or excessive cruelty or abuse. Although Maryland courts cannot dispose of the parties’ real property in Limited Divorce, parties frequently file to obtain interim support orders providing for legal and physical custody of children, payment of child support and/or alimony, continuing access to a spouse’s health insurance benefits, and continuing use and possession of the family home and automobiles pending the final divorce decree. (In the District of Columbia parties may file for Legal Separation to obtain similar judicial relief even if not living in separate households, and then convert their case to an Absolute Divorce once the parties have been separated for 12 months.)
In Maryland, either party may file immediately for an Absolute Divorce on the basis of ‘fault grounds’ including adultery, desertion, excessively cruel or vicious treatment of the spouse or a minor child, insanity, or incarceration; otherwise not until after a 12-month separation. Only a Judgment of Absolute Divorce will render a final judgment allocating the parties’ real property, in addition to child custody, child support, alimony, and personal property including cash, investments and retirement accounts. (By comparison, the District of Columbia does not recognize these ‘fault grounds’; the only recognized grounds for divorce are uncontested.)
Interim Separation Agreements
Cooperative divorcing couples may seek to formalize their respective financial responsibilities or co-parenting schedule during the separation and divorce planning period by a written Separation Agreement or a Consent Interim Order. Such agreements can be particularly useful in defining the parties’ rights and obligations where there is a disparity in income between the party with higher earnings and a stay-at-home parent, or where the dependent spouse or minor children have special needs. The parties may agree that the partner with significantly higher earnings will provide financial support and perhaps use and possession of the family home and automobiles to the parent with whom children primarily reside and/or financially dependent spouse. Such an agreement may be informal, and need not be entered as a court order, but it is prudent for the parties to enter into a comprehensive, enforceable written agreement drafted by a family attorney to ensure financial stability and to restrict dissipation of marital property.