- Divorce laws protect each spouse's interests when a couple separates.ring image by Jens Klingebiel from Fotolia.com
Divorce laws ensure that each spouse's rights to alimony, property and custody are protected. In Maryland, one spouse can file a Bill for Divorce in the circuit court where at least one spouse resides. The state does not have no-fault divorce and requires that the filing spouse establish grounds, or reasons, for wanting the divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
- A Maryland court will not issue a Decree of Divorce unless grounds are proven. Grounds recognized in the state include: (1) intentional desertion for at least 1 continuous year, (2) adultery, (3) one spouse's incarceration in state or federal prison for at least 3 years, (4) cruel and inhuman treatment, such as physical and mental abuse, (5) one spouse's mental illness, if that spouse has been in an institution for at least 3 years and (6) the spouse's joint decision to separate, so long as they have been separated for at least 1 year.
- Either spouse can seek alimony from the other. Alimony is not based on gender or fault in causing the divorce. Instead, alimony is paid to financially support one spouse who does not earn enough income to be self-supporting. Alimony is usually temporary, until the receiving spouse obtains employment sufficient to support her basic needs. However, in Maryland alimony can be permanent if the court believes the receiving spouse will be unable to work and support herself because of her age, disability or severe illness or if the spouses' financial situations are so disproportionate that the receiving spouse can never reach the same standard of living without alimony.
- Not all property is divided between spouses during divorce. Some property is considered separate and the one spouse who owns it will retain sole ownership. Separate property includes anything one spouse purchased or received before the marriage, anything spouses have agreed to keep separate and any inheritance one spouse receives during the marriage. Any remaining property is divided according to "equitable distribution" in Maryland, meaning not equal, but fair. When dividing property, a court will consider: (1) the value of each spouse's separate property, (2) each spouse's current financial situation, (3) each spouse's income, (4) each spouse's age, (5) the length of the marriage, (6) any physical or mental health issues of either spouse, (7) whether either spouse will be receiving alimony from the other and (8) each spouse's contribution in acquiring the marital property to be divided.
- Custody of any children is also decided during a divorce proceeding. A Maryland court can award custody to either parent, regardless of gender. If sole custody is awarded to only one parent, the other parent will have the right to liberal visitation in order to ensure that the child has continued contact with both parents. Maryland courts award custody according to the "best interests of the child" standard. Before issuing an award several factors are examined, including: (1) the child's preference, if the court feels the child is old enough to choose, (2) the child's age and health, (3) each parent's ability to care for the child, (4) the parents' character, especially if there are allegations of drug or alcohol abuse, (5) the distance between each parent's current residence and whether that distance would make visitation difficult for either parent and (6) any allegations of child abuse or abandonment.