Maryland Judgments of Absolute Divorce Based on Separations of 12 Months or More

When decide it’s time for a divorce, you hope that the process will be as amicable as possible. At a minimum, you hope that your spouse will acknowledge that your marriage is, indeed, over, even if they choose to contest issues in the divorce vigorously. Sometimes, though, your spouse may attempt to derail the process by contending that you’re not entitled to a judgment of divorce at all. Whatever kind of pushback you receive from your spouse, an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer can help you navigate and complete the process as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

A recent Baltimore County divorce case provides a practical example of what you do (and don’t) have to demonstrate to the court to be eligible for a judgment of absolute divorce based on separation.

The wife filed for divorce in June 2022, listing a one-year separation as her basis for the divorce. According to the wife, the couple separated nine years earlier but the husband periodically stayed “over [at the wife’s house] on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.” Allegedly, the last of these overnights occurred on New Year’s Eve 2020.

The husband, who represented himself after hiring and firing two different divorce attorneys, objected to the divorce. The trial judge was careful to explain clearly to the husband that the only issue before the court was the wife’s petition for a divorce. That meant, as the judge stated, that if the wife could “prove… a one-year separation, I will grant her a divorce…. Under Maryland law, if you have been separated for one year or more, regardless [if you] want to stay married, don’t want the divorce, it doesn’t matter. I can grant a divorce under Maryland law if they have been in fact separated for one year, whether or not you want the divorce.”

During the divorce hearing, the husband admitted that Dec. 31, 2020-Jan. 1, 2021 overnight was the last time he stayed the night at the wife’s house, owing to her refusal to allow him to do so thereafter. The husband tried to question the wife about why she refused to allow continued overnight visits, but the court disallowed the question.

The trial judge’s refusal to allow this line of questioning spotlights a key point: the reason why the wife rejected the husband’s requests was irrelevant. Under Maryland, it doesn’t matter why a separation happened or whose idea it was; if it occurred at least 12 months prior and was still ongoing, it generally is grounds for a divorce.

The trial court ultimately granted the judgment of divorce.

Maryland Law Erased the Voluntariness Requirement in the 2010s

The husband appealed but was unsuccessful. The Appellate Court, in upholding the ruling, pointed out some additional pieces of important legal knowledge. For one thing, the husband’s argument that the separation was involuntary might have been relevant if the case had been litigated several years earlier. Until 2011, Maryland required spouses seeking a divorce based on a 12-month separation to establish that the separation was voluntary. After that time, the absolute divorce statute allowed spouses to use any 12-month separation, whether voluntary or involuntary.

Additionally, the Appellate Court pointed out that the husband’s arguments that he attempted to continue cohabitating with the wife were irrelevant. Maryland family law has a specific statutory section stating that neither an unaccepted offer of reconciliation nor a rejected attempt at reconciliation by a spouse bars a petitioning spouse from getting her divorce.

What this case should highlight is that, if you’ve been separated from your spouse for more than a year and you want a divorce in Maryland, your spouse has relatively limited ways to prevent you from obtaining that judgment. While that’s true, your case still requires a knowledgeable advocate who can ensure that the judgment you get is the judgment you need. The skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC, are here to be that advocate for you. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation to find out more about putting our team to work for you.

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