What Your Proof in a Maryland Divorce on the Basis of ‘Cruelty of Treatment’ Does (and Doesn’t) Have to Include

In a lot of states, there is only one option for obtaining a divorce, and that is the “no-fault” option. (There are actually 17 of those states.) Maryland is not one of those 17. In this state, you have the choice of getting a “no-fault” divorce or getting a divorce based on the conduct of your spouse. The choice you select can make a big difference so, before you go to court and file either kind of divorce, be sure you’ve retained a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer to get the information and advice you need.

In internet slang, there exists the word “stigginit.” It is, essentially, a variation of “sticking it,” and means “sticking it” to someone or acting out of pure spite. Some believe that, if a spouse chooses to proceed with a fault divorce as opposed to a no-fault divorce in a state (like Maryland) that has both options, that spouse is just “stigginit” to their ex, or being spiteful. In reality, that’s not true. Obtaining a divorce due to your spouse’s fault can yield some very tangible benefits for you, such as a larger spousal support award (or your spouse receiving a smaller award,) as well as a more favorable child custody arrangement.

Here in Maryland, there are several ways you can get a fault-based divorce. They include your spouse’s adultery, your spouse’s deserting you, your spouse’s going to jail for a crime, or your spouse’s having gone insane. There’s also a ground for something called “cruelty of treatment” and, as one recent divorce case revealed, that ground encompasses more than just physical violence.

In that case, the spouses had married in 1982, divorced in 1998, and married again in 1991. Eventually, that second marriage developed problems, too. By 2012, the couple ceased being physically intimate and each spouse moved to separate parts of the marital home. By 2017, the wife filed for divorce based on “cruelty of treatment.”

Specifically, the wife asserted that the cruelty consisted of the husband belittling her in front of their son and others, questioning her mental stability in front of family members, withholding monetary support and making her “beg for food,” and leaving the residence for weeks or months on end without telling her when he was leaving or when he’d be back. The husband also allegedly began making numerous major financial decisions without the wife’s input, monitored the wife’s phone calls, and wrote several letters where he questioned the wife’s devotion to him and doubted her marital fidelity.

The trial judge refused to grant the divorce, ruling that proof of intermittent incidents of cruel behavior spread out over a 20-year marriage was not enough, especially given the wife’s lack of evidence of such conduct in the most recent five years, to qualify as cruel treatment. The trial court concluded that the wife needed a “continuing behavior or pattern,” and that her evidence didn’t amount to that.

Mistreatment Need Not Be Physical to Be a Valid Instance of Cruelty

The appeals court reversed that ruling, stating that the trial judge used an incorrect standard for “cruelty of treatment.” To be entitled to a divorce based on your spouse’s cruel treatment of you, the appeals court explained, you don’t need proof of physical violence. All you need is evidence of “conduct on the part of the husband or wife which is calculated to seriously impair the health or permanently destroy the happiness of the other.”

If the behavior represented a serious threat to your physical and emotional well-being, then it can be a valid foundation of a divorce based on cruelty of treatment. This includes emotional abuse, psychological abuse, “and other coercive and controlling behaviors.” Verbal abuse alone can be sufficient if it was “so demeaning” to the victim’s self-esteem as to be “intolerable.”

Whether you or your spouse filed for divorce and whether yours is a fault or no-fault divorce, an experienced advocate with an in-depth understanding of Maryland divorce law can make a world of difference when it comes to the outcome of your case. Count on the skilled attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide the powerful legal representation you need to protect your interests and get you the outcome you deserve. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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