What the Law in Maryland Does (and Doesn’t) Require of Pregnant Women Who Seek Divorces in this State

A Missouri lawmaker made headlines in February for proposing a noteworthy change to the divorce laws of that state. The Kansas City Democrat’s bill would alter a five-decade-old law to ease the hurdles facing women who are pregnant and seeking a divorce there. Maryland does not have a similar law on the books restricting a pregnant woman who seeks a divorce, but getting a Maryland divorce while pregnant does present a unique set of issues and challenges. Whatever your situation – but especially if you’re facing unique complexities like needing a divorce while pregnant – an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer can help you navigate the process and get a positive outcome… and get it as efficiently as possible.

As a specific matter, the existing Missouri statute (contrary to some social media claims) does not create a blanket ban on issuing judgments of dissolution to women who are pregnant. Pregnancy is one of eight disclosures a spouse filing for divorce must make in her petition. (Other examples of required disclosures include residency, the date and location of the marriage, and the date of separation.) Once the petitioning spouse discloses her pregnancy, the judge has the discretion to forego issuing a final judgment until that pregnancy has reached its end.

These laws, while discretionary on their faces, sometimes function as de facto bans. For example, Kentucky’s statute shares many similarities with Missouri’s regarding mandatory disclosures. It requires disclosing the date and the place of the marriage, the date of separation, the names and ages of the minor children, and whether the wife is pregnant. A subsequent subsection notes that if the wife is pregnant, “the court may continue the case until the pregnancy” ends.

This statutory language indicates that continuation is discretionary, but postponement is so common that the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky says on its website that “you can file for divorce [while pregnant], but the court won’t grant it until after the child is born or the pregnancy ends.”

The bill pending in the Missouri House of Representatives would add explicit language to the statutes indicating that “pregnancy status shall not prevent the court from entering a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation.”

How Maryland Approaches the Issue

In Maryland, the law doesn’t require you to disclose a pregnancy in your divorce complaint. The complaint template publicly available on the Maryland Courts website shows that, when you file, you have to tell the court when and where you married, how long you (and your spouse) have lived in Maryland, how long you’ve been separated, the grounds for divorce, the names and ages of the children, and where the children live. There is no section requiring you to state that you are/aren’t pregnant.

One additional thing worth knowing is the date of your divorce judgment relative to the date of your child’s birth will not affect the default presumption about the child’s paternity. If the father of your unborn child is not your spouse, the courts generally will presume the child to be your spouse’s anyway. The law presumes that any child conceived (as opposed to just born) during a marriage is the offspring of both spouses. That means that your soon-to-be ex-husband would have potential responsibilities like child support, but would have full parental rights, as well. The law does have ways to avoid this outcome. If the court receives evidence that invoking this presumption of paternity would not be in the best interest of the child, then the judge may decline to follow it. In that process, which is called “disestablishing paternity,” the judge could issue an order naming an alleged father (who isn’t the mother’s spouse) as the child’s legal father. This can be crucial if the biological father desires to be named the legal father and/or you have concerns about your spouse seeking to assert parental rights in the future.

As you can see, these issues can be complicated. You may be seeking a divorce while pregnant due to issues of abuse, which potentially can add an additional layer of complexity to the case. A skilled legal advocate can help ensure your divorce doesn’t get sidelined by procedural problems. Count on the experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide the effective representation you need to resolve your divorce case successfully and efficiently. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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