Each state in the country has the authority to enact laws governing marriage and divorce. These laws can vary a great deal, especially when it comes to the acceptable grounds for divorce. The Maryland Family Code identifies two types of divorce that couples may pursue: absolute and limited. When seeking an absolute divorce, the couple must establish legal grounds for separation. State law provides the following acceptable scenarios: a 12-month separation period, desertion, adultery, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, certain criminal convictions, and insanity.
According to the Maryland Courts’ website, the most commonly used ground for divorce is the 12-month separation. In order to satisfy the legal requirement, parties must live separately for 12 uninterrupted months. (In a recent blog post, we discussed a controversial Maryland case where there was some question as to whether the couple seeking a divorce maintained 12 uninterrupted months of separation.) In a limited divorce action, while courts have the authority to resolve significant family issues, this proceeding alone does not end the marriage. Generally, parties who file for a limited divorce do so in order to resolve certain issues, financial and otherwise, that cannot wait until the court grants an absolute divorce. Furthermore, a limited divorce may suit couples who do not qualify for an absolute divorce.
Another complicated and sometimes-contentious legal issue in a divorce proceeding is the division of marital property at the end of a marriage. Marital property is typically made up of assets and debts acquired during the marriage. Some states have “community property” laws, meaning that when a couple chooses to divorce, the law dictates that marital assets are to be divided evenly. Other states, such as Maryland, have “equitable distribution” laws affecting the division of marital assets and debts. In this case, a judge will divide the property “fairly” but not necessarily evenly.
Specifically, Section 8-205 grants the court authority to determine the amount and method of payment of a monetary award after considering certain factors, such as the contributions, monetary and non-monetary, of each party to the well-being of the family, the value of all property interests of each party, the economic circumstances of each party at the time the award is to be made, the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the age of each party, the physical and mental condition of each party, and other items.
However, in tallying the marital assets and debts, the law excludes from consideration certain items accumulated during the marriage, such as inheritances and gifts. A recent Wall Street Journal article identified some of the issues that can arise when a couple divorces and one party or the other seeks to keep as separate property an inheritance or other gift that was received during the marriage. The article suggested various ways that a spouse may protect his or her property, including maintaining separate accounts, preparing a “prenuptial agreement,” utilizing trusts, and saving any and all documentation related to the inheritance or gift.
Clearly, these are complicated matters that must be addressed in contemplation of divorce or separation. To understand the extent of how these specific state laws could affect your divorce or legal separation proceeding, it is essential that you contact an experienced family law attorney from the local Maryland area. Parties anticipating a divorce are encouraged to contact Anthony A. Fatemi, an experienced Maryland family law attorney, for representation and legal guidance. Mr. Fatemi can be reached at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.
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