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On October 1, 2015, two important changes in Maryland divorce law concerning residency and separation requirements went into effect.
While these changes won't affect couples who've already spent at least the last year living in Maryland at separate residences, for those who've only recently moved to Maryland, or are newly separated or even still living together, the new laws are quite significant as they greatly reduce the amount of time it takes for many couples to get divorced.
Until now, anyone wanting to get divorced in Maryland was required to live in-state for a full year before filing for divorce unless the grounds, or legal reason, for the divorce occurred while living in Maryland. Under the new law, however, the minimum residency has dropped to just six months. This reduced residency requirement provides a benefit to newer Marylanders whose marriages fell apart before they moved to the state.
In addition to the reduction in the in-state residency requirement, the Maryland legislature has also brought greater ease to the divorce process by adding a second no-fault divorce grounds called "mutual consent." Under the mutual consent grounds, a couple with no minor children together who sign a written agreement settling all matters concerning the division of property, debts and spousal support, and will attend a brief divorce hearing together, are able to file for divorce even if they still live together or have been separated only a short time.
Prior to the mutual consent grounds, the only no-fault divorce grounds in Maryland was voluntary separation, which required spouses to live at separate residences for at least 12 months before filing for divorce. The financial burden of setting up and maintaining two households is more than some couples can handle, forcing many to delay filing for divorce. Under the new law, however, couples with no minor children may continue living under the same roof and still file for divorce.
While the new Maryland residency law benefits couples both with and without children, the addition of the mutual consent grounds provides no relief to couples who have minor children together. For them, the 12-month voluntary separation grounds remains the only no-fault option for divorce. Because the expense of maintaining separate households tends to be even greater when the parties are also supporting minor children, many think that the 12-month separation requirement is unreasonable, especially when spouses have reached a full agreement on all terms of the divorce. However, the Maryland legislature remains unconvinced.
Apart from Maryland, only Louisiana, North Carolina and Virginia still require a full year's separation to get a no-fault divorce when the parties have minor children together. (Note: Arkansas requires an entire 18-month separation period for a no-fault divorce regardless of whether the parties have minor children.)