Uncontested divorce in Maryland is also known as “no-fault” divorce. Often couples decide to terminate their marriage with no allegations of wrongdoing on either spouse.
To qualify for an uncontested divorce, spouses must have agreed on all marital issues including child custody and visitation, child support, property division, debts, and alimony.
When couples ask the court to grant them a Maryland no-fault divorce, the court will issue a judgment of absolute divorce and the marriage is dissolved. Either spouse is then free to remarry. Typically, an uncontested divorce may be a quick divorce in Maryland because there are no issues of dispute to draw out a lengthy court action.
What Are the Requirements for an Uncontested Divorce in Maryland?
An uncontested divorce is one of the more simple ways of obtaining an absolute divorce in Maryland. The process has been streamlined by recent legislation. Couples can get a divorce based on the following grounds:
Separation for a Year
If you have lived apart from your spouse for at least 12 months without sexual intercourse with each other, you can qualify for a no-fault divorce provided you are not contesting any issues. If you lived at any point with your estranged spouse or had sexual relations, you will not be able to get an absolute divorce based on a 12-month separation. You can file for a divorce based on a year’s separation even if your spouse does not consent to the divorce.
A recently enacted divorce law in Maryland means there is a single rule for divorce based on separation. If the parties lived apart without sexual relations for 12 consecutive months, the separation requirement is met whether or not the separation was agreed on.
Mutual consent is a more recent legal avenue under the Maryland code to a quick, “no-fault” absolute divorce. A court may grant an absolute divorce on the ground of mutual consent, without a waiting period when:
- The parties have no minor children in common;
- The parties execute and provide the court with a written settlement agreement signed by both spouses that resolves all of the issues relating to alimony and the distribution of property;
- Both parties appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing
- Neither of the parties files a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement before a divorce hearing.
When the court decrees an absolute divorce on the ground of mutual consent, the spouses’ separation agreement becomes a part of the official divorce decree and is legally enforceable.
No-Fault Divorce vs. Divorce with Fault
Our Maryland family lawyers are often asked what is the difference between an uncontested, no-fault divorce and a divorce in which one party is seeking to blame the other.
To secure a fault-based divorce one party must prove the other acted in a certain way. Grounds for fault include:
- Criminal activities leading to imprisonment;
- Cruel or vicious conduct;
- Child abuse;
It may be difficult to prove some of these grounds, although others such as a spouse being imprisoned are straightforward to prove. Some fault grounds have the advantage of not requiring a waiting period, allowing you to get divorced immediately.
A fault ground typically has no bearing on child custody unless it directly affects the welfare of the children.
A fault ground may have a bearing on determining the right to alimony in a divorce case and how a court divides property from the marriage.
If you are unable to prove a fault-based ground for divorce, you may still be eligible to file for a divorce based on the “no-fault” ground of 12-month separation or mutual consent. You can claim multiple grounds for divorce when you file.
The Uncontested Divorce Hearing Process in Maryland
The spouse who initiated the divorce needs to initially locate and fill in the correct forms and to file them with the Maryland courts. The Department of Juvenile and Family Services offers the forms online at no cost.
This can be a bureaucratic and painstaking process. Hiring a divorce lawyer can make the process easier. If you seek to rush the process and make errors, the divorce may be delayed. Court clerks can help but they cannot offer legal advice.
Quick Fact: Uncontested divorces are often referred to as: “no contest divorces”
The complaint is the most important divorce form in a divorce action. It provides the court with in-depth information about the marriage and the spouses. It includes a plea from the plaintiff to the court to grant a divorce and may seek to order the defendant to pay alimony.
The plaintiff should submit the divorce papers to the courthouse to be filed. The court will issue a summons to the defendant, create a case file with a number and levy a filing fee. In some cases, a waiver can be sought based on income which will remove filing and service fees.
The plaintiff will then serve the defendant. Service is the official process to make sure the other spouse gets a copy of your documents. Often a deputy or a private process server will personally hand over the documents to a defendant. The plaintiff will receive written proof of service which will be filed at the courthouse.
Even in uncontested divorces when an agreement has been reached service is required. If you believe the other party will cooperate, ask your spouse to sign an acknowledgment of service.
In uncontested dissolutions, the defendant can then file an answer indicating total agreement with the petition, and either party can file their written separation agreement showing they agree on all the important issues of the divorce.
The Final Hearing for a No-Fault Divorce in Maryland
In the next step in the process, a plaintiff should write to the clerk of court to ask for an uncontested hearing date. It’s mandatory for the plaintiff to appear at the hearing with another witness. This witness cannot be the other spouse.
The witness must confirm basic requirements that the plaintiff lives in Maryland.
There are certain absolute divorce forms that must be provided in Maryland including a copy of a marriage certificate and information like tax forms that confirms the fact the plaintiff lives in Maryland.
At the final hearing, the plaintiff provides testimony by responding to questions from the judge.
It is not mandatory for the defendant to appear at a hearing for an uncontested divorce. He or she has the right to waive an appearance in court. The final agreement is placed on the court record and approved by the judge.
The judge will sign the final divorce order if it is fair and reasonable and all the proper procedures were followed.
Hire an Experienced Maryland Divorce Lawyer For a No-Fault Proceeding
When both parties can agree on all aspects of a divorce in Maryland, the process is typically faster and cheaper.
However, uncontested divorces are not always easy for both parties to pull off. Marital breakdown is a difficult and stressful time. Even with goodwill between parties, a disagreement can ensue. Any lack of agreement on an issue such as child custody, alimony or the distribution of assets will change a no-fault divorce into a contested proceeding.
Maryland does not have specific rules or procedures for uncontested cases. However, these types of cases move through the legal system much more quickly than contested cases. If you and your spouse agree on all the terms of the divorce, you may succeed in getting a quickie divorce and be able to move on with your life.
If you can’t reach an agreement from the outset but come to a total agreement later on, the divorce will take longer to be finalized but the process will still be quicker and less costly than a full-blown trial.
A Maryland divorce attorney can help the parties work together to resolve issues in dispute. Please contact the Law Offices of Randolph Rice for a consultation today.