Divorce is a very personal and trying time in a couple’s life together. There are many emotional, financial, and logistical issues to consider and resolve, such as the division of marital property, custody, and spousal support. And until recently, married couples that decided to separate were required by law to wait a year before filing for divorce. This provision served to delay a process that couples often hoped to resolve as efficiently as possible. But under this law, once the spouses lived separate and apart from each other, only then would the clock begin to tick. If for some reason the parties resumed living together, even for a few days, the clock would reset and further delay the divorce process.
Like most laws, there were exceptions. For example, spouses could circumvent the waiting period by alleging that one party or the other committed adultery or had been abusive. In some cases, couples were making false allegations simply so they could file for divorce without having to wait for the year to elapse. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, all of this has changed, due to the efforts of Senator Robert A. Zirkin in sponsoring legislation to help “Marylanders to move on with their lives.”
In an earlier blog post, we reported on Senator Zirkin’s Bill 472 (the foundation for the new law), describing it as a provision that would authorize a court to decree an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent under certain specified circumstances. Before the bill was passed, it underwent some revisions to address concerns by lawmakers that it did not afford enough protections against one spouse taking advantage of the other. The new, revised bill went into effect last week, easing the path for married couples to seek a divorce.
The provision essentially eliminates the waiting period for couples who have no children, who mutually agree to get a divorce, and who are able to agree on the division of marital property. The revisions also require that both spouses attend the court hearing in person, whereas the former law only required one spouse to attend an uncontested divorce hearing.
The law providing for expedited divorce does not extend to couples with children. Under the new provisions, they are still required to live apart for one year before they are able to file for divorce, even if they have agreed on child custody and support issues. But despite this limitation, observers have indicated that the law represents “meaningful change” and is “a huge development.”
Since the law allows parties to expedite their divorce with mutual consent, it encourages spouses to come to an agreement on the significant issues, saving them time, money, and unnecessary heartache. If you are considering divorce, the new law could make it easier and less costly to achieve. But it is important to be aware of your legal rights throughout the proceeding, both financial and practical, in order to protect yourself.
An experienced Maryland family law attorney would be able to anticipate the impact of this new law and advise you how to best proceed with your particular divorce proceeding. Anthony A. Fatemi is a Maryland family law attorney with experience representing parties in divorce and related matters. For representation and legal guidance, you can contact Mr. Fatemi at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.
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