Two Types of Divorce in Maryland: Limited versus Absolute Divorce
Maryland recognizes two kinds of divorce: limited and absolute. There are a number of significant differences between the two types and certain circumstances in which to file for one versus the other. The attorneys at the Mulinazzi Law Office can sit down with you to discuss which is best to file for under the facts for your particular case but in general:
1. Limited Divorce — A limited divorce is not a divorce at all; instead, it’s a legal separation from bed and board – pending the outcome of the final divorce (called “Absolute Divorce” see below). In a Limited Divorce spouses can receive relief from the Court on only certain specific issues. These include: custody, child access, child support, exclusive use and possession of the family home, alimony, and attorney’s fees. It is important to know, that property issues are NOT resolved at this time (pensions, 401ks, house, etc.).
a. There are a few grounds or reasons that a Court can grant a Limited Divorce.
i. No-Fault: A voluntary separation for less than one year is the only no-fault ground (this is the most frequently used ground/reason)
ii. Fault: (1) extreme cruelty of treatment to the spouse or child, (2) excessively vicious conduct to the spouse of minor children, or (3) desertion that has occurred for less than 12 months.
2. Absolute Divorce — An absolute divorce is a real divorce and all issues (incl. property issues) will be addressed as a final determination of all your rights attendant to your marriage: custody, child access, child support, exclusive use and possession of the family home, alimony, attorney’s fees, monetary award, determination of marital vs. non-marital property and disposition of all marital property (money, pensions, IRA, personal property, cars, boats, etc.) and real property (house, vacation home, timeshare, land, etc.).
You must prove the elements of one of the enumerated grounds or reasons for an Absolute Divorce before the Court can grant you an absolute divorce. Those grounds can be organized as fault grounds and no-fault grounds.
- No-Fault Grounds:
o One Year Mutual and Voluntary Separation (most commonly used)
o Two Year Separation
- Fault Grounds:
o Extreme Cruelty of treatment to the spouse or child;
o Excessively vicious conduct to the spouse of minor children;
o Desertion that has occurred for more than 12 months
o Insanity (with confinement in mental institution for 3+ years)
o Incarceration (with confinement for 1+ year on a 3+ year sentence)
Only in very rare cases will the Court allow you to go forward with a Complaint for Divorce if you are living with your spouse, absent adultery or cruel/vicious conduct by your spouse. It is important to talk to our attorneys to understand how some of the fault grounds are legally defined and what must be proven to the Judge as the legal definition differs from a lay (or non-legal) understanding. In Maryland, you are allowed to “plead in the alternative” or state two or more grounds for a divorce even if they conflict with one another or seem contradictory. Therefore, you can claim that you left the home voluntarily (no fault divorce) and that you were forced out by your spouse (fault divorce). It is smart to discuss the benefits and disadvantages to filing for a fault based with our attorneys.