A common complaint among couples going through a divorce proceeding is the length of time it often takes to resolve and obtain a judgment of absolute divorce. One of the most common causes of a drawn-out process is inherent in the nature of a divorce: the couple’s relationship has deteriorated and the parties typically do not agree on the key issues to be resolved. And in Maryland, current state law adds to this already difficult situation by requiring couples to live apart for a full year before even applying for a divorce (under certain circumstances). One way to help move the process along more quickly is to seek the assistance of an experienced Maryland family law attorney, someone who understands these challenges and can foster a smoother and more efficient process.
Another potential factor that could reduce the length of time that parties must wait to receive a divorce judgment concerns the recent efforts by a Maryland State Senator to add a new ground to the Family Code: mutual consent. Senator Robert Zirkin introduced a Bill (SB 472) on February 6, 2015, that would authorize a court to decree an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent under certain specified circumstances. The Bill would also authorize a court to merge or incorporate a settlement agreement into a divorce decree. And finally, the Bill would permit a court to modify or enforce a settlement agreement consistent with certain provisions of law.
According to a recent article appearing in the Baltimore Sun, a Senate panel approved the Bill that would essentially remove the State’s policy against requiring spouses to wait an entire year before filing for divorce. A hearing on the Bill is scheduled to take place in the house at the end of March 2015. Section 7-103 of the Maryland Family Code currently sets forth the specific grounds for an absolute divorce, including (but not limited to): adultery, certain criminal convictions, desertion (with specific criteria), insanity (also includes certain requirements), or a 12-month separation. This last ground for divorce clearly lengthens the time period within which a couple may resolve their case. Further, courts have held that this 12-month separation must be continuous, without any breaks.
By amending the law to allow couples to dissolve a marriage by mutual consent, the spouses will be able to address and sort through other key components of most divorce cases, in a more efficient manner. Some of these items include: the division of property, alimony, child custody and visitation, as well as support issues. When a couple makes the difficult decision to end their marriage, there should be as little obstacles as possible. Eliminating the one-year wait time by offering an alternative ground to divorce, would seem to enable families to move forward in their lives in a less cumbersome manner.
While the recent vote by the Judicial Proceedings Committee was sent the Bill to the Senate floor, it seems that a similar proposal “died” in a House committee last spring. We will carefully monitor the status of SB 472 for any new progress, as a change to the Family Code concerning grounds for divorce could significantly alter the landscape of divorce proceedings in Maryland. If you are considering divorce, it is supremely important to be represented by a local family law attorney who is fully apprised of the most current legal provisions impacting your case. 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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