Maryland Uncontested Divorce

This information is an overview of the uncontested Maryland divorce filing process and a summary of the divorce papers that are typically filed with the family law or domestic relations clerk. This overview is not intended to be an exact step-by-step guide for those "do it yourself divorce" filers, due to the fact that many cases are unique and the overview presented here is often not the only method of obtaining an uncontested divorce in Maryland.

To file for a divorce in Maryland, one of the spouses must have lived in Maryland for a least a year if the grounds for divorce happened outside of Maryland. Otherwise, either spouse may file. If insanity is the ground, the residency requirement is two years. A divorce may be filed in the county where either spouse lives.

Grounds for divorce are No-Fault, 1) a one-year voluntary and mutual separation "without interruption and cohabitation and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation," or 2) a two-year separation "without cohabitation or sexual relations."

In divorce actions, the filing spouse is called the Plaintiff; the responding spouse is called the Defendant. The action is filed in the Circuit Court.

Under the one-year voluntary and mutual separation route, the couple must live under separate roofs for twelve consecutive months, without sexual relations. The clock starts over if the couple have sexual relations, live together or even spend a night under the same roof. The separation must be mutual and voluntary and with the intention of ending the marriage.

Fault grounds are 1) adultery, 2) desertion for one year, 3) insanity for at least three years, 4) imprisonment for at least three years with one year served, 5) cruelty and 6) excessively vicious conduct.

Maryland also grants legal separations under the grounds of 1) voluntary separation, 2) desertions, 3) cruelty and 4) excessively vicious conduct.

Unlike many states, Maryland does not offer a summary divorce. However, marital separation agreements are specifically authorized and may be used to collaborate that a separation is voluntary if 1) the agreement states they separated voluntarily and 2) the agreement was signed under oath before the Complaint was filed. In addition, each spouse must file a Financial Statement Affidavit and a Joint Statement of Marital and Non-Marital Property.

A divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint for Absolute Divorce, which identified the parties, the children, the grounds and the relief requested.

The Complaint is served on the Plaintiff, together with a Summons, a Civil-Domestic Information Report completed by the Plaintiff and a blank one for the Defendant. The Civil-Domestic Information Report is a cover sheet describing the nature of the case.

In Maryland, the Defendant is served by certified mail or by private server. When service is accomplished, the Plaintiff files the return reciept and an Affidavit of Service, which proves that the Plaintiff has been notified.

The Summons gives the Defendant 30 days to file an Answer if he or she resides in the state, 60 days if he or she resides outside of Maryland and 90 days if he or she is served outside the United States.

A Defendant may file an Answer, in which he or she either admits or denies each of the allegations of the Complaint. He or she may also file a counterclaim, making other allegations in the action. In any event, the Defendant who wishes to participate in the action should file an Answer, even if the action is uncontested.

A separation that began involuntary can go the one-year route if a Separation Agreement is signed before a Complaint for Absolute Divorce is filed.

If the action is uncontested, the couple then files a Joint Request for an Uncontested Divorce Hearing. This is often the route when the couple divorce using the one-year voluntary separation or two-year separation.

At this hearing, the couple need the following forms:

> a Report of Absolute Divorce, the "blue form," which obtained from the court and is used for record keeping;

> a copy of the marriage license (or witness present at the wedding);

> Child Support Guidelines, if there are children;

> witness identification information;

> Separation Agreement, which may or may not have already been filed with the Complaint

> Submission to Judgment, which waives the right of appeal.

Uncontested divorce cases in Maryland are heard by a family law master. After the hearing, the masterís findings and recommendations become the basis for the Decree of Divorce, which is signed by a judge and mailed to the parties in a few weeks.

Only the Plaintiff need appear at the divorce hearing, but the Defendant may do so if he or she wishes.

Witness information is used when a witness is required to prove any allegation made by the Plaintiff.

When spouses agree, they can waive the ten-day period for filing exceptions, so their divorce becomes final earlier.

If the Defendant wishes to contest the action, the Answer together with his or her Civil-Domestic Case Report is filed with the court clerk. If either party is asking for spousal or child support, a Financial Statement must also be filed.

If the Defendant fails to respond within the time periods (30, 60 or 90 days, depending on his or her location in Maryland, out of state or out of the United States), the Plaintiff may file a Request for Default. Once the Order of Default is received, the Plaintiff may schedule an uncontested divorce hearing. Before these steps may be taken, however, the Plaintiff must make a "diligent effort" to locate the missing spouse if at all possible. The effort, which must be made in good faith, includes:

> efforts to serve process by certified mail at the last known address;

> letters to relatives and friends, the last known employer, neighbors;

> the investigation of a private investigator;

> searches of telephone directories, directory assistance and the Internet;

> a search of the Maryland motor vehicle administration;

> referencing the Military Service Locator;

> contacting the child support enforcement agency.

After these avenue dead end, the Plaintiff may file a Motion for Alternative Service. The court will then issue an Order for Alternative Service. The Plaintiff may then proceed with Service by Publication, which means publication of a notice in a newspaper likely to be seen by the Defendant.

If these fails to produce a result, the Plaintiff may file for the Default Order.

If the action is contested, once the Answer or Affidavit of Service has been filed, the court will send the parties a Notice of Scheduling Conference before a Master, who sets dates for issues dealing with Pendente Lite hearings (for temporary spousal and child support) custody evaluations and custody assessments.

No two contested divorces are alike because the circumstances of each divorcing couple are different. A court may order parenting classes if custody is disputed, or Alternative Dispute Resolution. It may issue a Scheduling Order, which includes the identification of witnesses, and a cutoff for any discovery

Prior to a trial, the parties of a contested divorce must file Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Martial and Non-Marital Property. This form is very important because the judge uses it in the division of the marital estate.