You’ve probably heard from your friends or relatives about divorces that drag on for years. Maybe your previous divorce was one of those dreadful experiences. But it doesn’t have to be! At Alan L. Billian, P.A., our Owings Mills family law attorneys have simplified and “de-stressed” divorces for numerous couples, and we can help you do the same. We think that every smooth divorce starts with a good understanding of Maryland’s divorce process, so we’ve put together this general divorce timeline to offer you some basic knowledge.
1. Decision to Divorce
First comes a decision to divorce, whether it’s mutual or one-sided. Evaluate the roots of your decision and see how they fit with the 8 grounds for divorce recognized in Maryland. The only no-fault grounds for divorce in Maryland are a 12-month separation or a divorce by mutual consent. This means that if you arrived at the decision to divorce mutually, either you will have to meet some very specific requirements, including having no minor children in common with your spouse, among other things, or you will have to live separately for 12 months before you can file for divorce. If you are divorcing based on one of the “fault” reasons, you may be able to file immediately and may not have to go through a separation.
2. Hire a Maryland Divorce Attorney
You may think it’s too early to involve an attorney, but you’ll be glad you did it. A good divorce lawyer is there to guide you all the way through the process and answer any questions you may have. Instead of searching the internet and getting dubious advice from random strangers on forums, you can talk to an expert in the subject matter and the laws of your state. You and your spouse should have different lawyers even if both of you want divorce.
3. Limited or Absolute Divorce
Maryland recognizes two types of divorce: limited and absolute. Limited divorce doesn’t allow you to remarry, but it can help temporarily settle certain financial and child custody issues while the two of your are separated. If you think a limited divorce isn’t necessary, consider a separation agreement. It’s a great way to divide your responsibilities, as well as formalize your separation.
4. Contested or Uncontested Divorce
The time to decide whether your property division, child custody and other issues should be settled in court is before you file for divorce. When you file, you will be asked whether you want the court to help you resolve these matters or whether you have an agreement with your spouse. We’ve covered contested and uncontested divorce in detail in one of our recent posts if you would like to learn more about them.
If you choose to go the uncontested route, the next step would be to select which negotiation method you would like to use: mediation, collaborative law or 4-way meetings. As a result of these meetings, you may come out with a property settlement, financial settlement and child custody agreements.
5. Filing for Divorce
Once your 12-month separation is over, you are ready to file for divorce. The official form you file is called a “complaint for absolute divorce.” Your spouse is then served with the complaint and a request to appear for a hearing. He or she needs to respond to the complaint to confirm its receipt. Hearing is usually scheduled several months after the filing date to give both parties time to prepare. If your spouse fails to respond, this does not prevent your divorce from moving forward.
6. Final Hearing or Trial
If your divorce is uncontested, then you will need to come in for a final hearing, during which your grounds for divorce will be validated and your agreements will be checked to make sure they are lawful and fair. If your divorce is the contested kind, then you will go through one or several pre-trial conferences and trials. The attorneys will conduct “discovery” and listen to witness testimonials before helping you to decide how to settle your issues. The scheduling of your trial can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on how busy the court system is and each spouse’s willingness to cooperate.
In some circumstances, you and your spouse may be ordered by the court to participate in certain services, such as custody evaluation, co-parenting classes or mental health evaluation. They are typically related to child custody issues and are designed to help the court make a decision or to help you minimize stress on your children.
At the end, the court issues a judgment that grants you absolute divorce, which means you can freely remarry.
Feel free to contact our Maryland divorce lawyers for a one-on-one consultation to discuss your specific case and get your questions answered.