Most states have done away with fault divorces and only recognize no-fault grounds. However, this is not the case in Maryland. Maryland provides three different types of divorce grounds:
- Being separated for 24 months
- No-fault grounds
- Fault grounds
No-fault divorces—which you can file simply on the grounds of irreconcilable differences—are often cheaper and swifter than fault divorces. Most couples opt for this route. It does not require you to prove the other party was at fault, and you do not have to tell the court exactly what your irreconcilable differences are.
Some parties, however, may decide to file for a fault-based divorce, which requires you to prove that the other party was at fault in one of six ways—something that parties usually do to try to gain a legal advantage. (We will discuss this in a little more detail later on.)
On what grounds can I file a fault divorce?
In order to file for a fault divorce in Maryland, you must use one of the following six reasons, detailed in the Code of Maryland § 7–103:
- Desertion (12 or more consecutive months of deliberate and final desertion with no hope of reconciliation)
- Cruelty (including cruel treatment toward the spouse or toward her children)
- Excessively vicious conduct (including toward the spouse or her children)
- Certain criminal convictions (conviction of a felony or misdemeanor that results in a prison sentence of three or more years)
- Insanity (the insane spouse must have been institutionalized for at least three years with no hope of recovery)
The filing spouse—also known as the plaintiff—will have the burden of proving the grounds. Make no mistake: it can be quite hard to prove certain grounds.
If you file on the grounds of adultery, for example, do you have video or photographic evidence of your spouse engaging in an adulterous relationship? And did you obtain them legally?
Hearsay, such as flirtatious texts or suggestive Facebook posts, may not be sufficient. Similarly, if you file on the grounds of cruelty, do you have evidence such as police reports of battery or photographs of the effects of the cruel treatment to support your claim?
In addition to proving your grounds, you will also have to meet the residency requirements. One spouse must have lived in Maryland for at least one year prior to filing for divorce. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney about whether a fault divorce is right for you and what types of evidence you will need to support your case.
Why would someone opt for a fault divorce?
If fault divorces are more complicated, expensive, and labor-intensive, why would anyone choose that path? There are several valid explanations, such as:
- Religious reasons: Some religious traditions discourage its members from seeking divorce, except in the case of adultery. Filing on the grounds of adultery can satisfy these requirements.
- Legal advantage: An individual may also file for a fault-based divorce to gain a legal advantage in a child custody case or to argue the feasibility of alimony.
How do I begin the process of filing for a fault divorce?
The process of a divorce begins with filing a complaint and other required forms with the local court. You will also have to serve a copy of the documents on your spouse (you cannot serve the complaint yourself).
Then, your spouse will have a 30 days to file a response (or 60 days if out-of-state and 90 days if out of the country), of which you will receive a copy. With a fault divorce, in lieu of a generic response, your spouse will have the option of submitting a counterclaim that states different grounds than the one on which you filed.
After you have filed the initial forms, you will each need to collect and submit certain documents such as financial affidavits and information about your assets and liabilities, as well as proof to support your grounds, your requests for alimony, custody, etc.
Mediation and negotiations may be helpful at this stage in order to help reach terms of agreement. Then, at the hearing, both parties will share their points, requests, and evidence with the judge. The judge will hear both sides and make a determination. Upon a successful conclusion of the case, the judge will issue a divorce decree and an order stating the terms of the divorce.
Given the complex, often contentious nature of a fault divorce, you certainly want to have an attorney help you navigate the process.
For a legal consultation with a lawyer in Maryland, contact Hecht & Associates. We can review your case, explain your options, and counsel you on the best way to move forward considering your particular circumstances. Should you work with us, we will make it our mission to fight for your best interests and the best possible outcome for your divorce.