What is Absolute Divorce in Maryland?

patrickcrawford | September 28, 2023

Maryland has some unique divorce laws. Did you know, for example, that there is no such thing as a “legal separation” in Maryland? If you and your spouse live separately, do not have sexual relations, and intend to get divorced, that constitutes a separation in Maryland—no legal paperwork necessary. In Maryland, there are two kinds of divorce: absolute and limited. If you are new to the state, this probably sounds a little intimidating, so let’s break it down and examine each of these types of divorce.


Absolute Divorce

In simple terms, an absolute divorce legally terminates your marriage. It is the most common kind of divorce in Maryland and resolves property division, child custody, and child support issues. After an absolute divorce is finalized, you may remarry and change your last name as well. This type of divorce culminates in the issuance of a decree of absolute divorce. Once this document is finalized, anything once owned as community property is now owned 50/50 like a partnership (“in common”). 

Furthermore, one cannot, for example, inherit property automatically from the other anymore. In short, an absolute divorce in Maryland is like any regular divorce in another state.

Couple discussing divorce with lawyer

Absolute Divorce Eligibility

To qualify for absolute divorce, certain qualifications need to be met:

  • Mutual consent: This is the only way to get a “no-fault” divorce in Maryland. This requires you and your spouse to agree 100% on all aspects of the divorce settlement. No waiting period or separation is required.
  • Adultery: To show that your spouse committed adultery as grounds for an at-fault divorce in Maryland, you only need to show intent (an inclination to cheat) and opportunity (having spent sufficient time alone with a would-be partner). Even if the cheating spouse admits to the adultery, you must still prove these two elements to the court. If you can do that, the divorce waiting period is waived.
  • Abandonment (“Desertion”): In reference to at-fault divorces in Maryland, there are two types of desertion or spousal abandonment: constructive and actual. “Constructive desertion” is when your spouse leaves for a justifiable reason (military transfer, family illness), and you refuse to join them. In that scenario, the spouse who stays put is the deserter. “Actual desertion” is where your spouse leaves and doesn’t return. In circumstances of actual desertion, you often don’t know where your spouse is (they may be missing), or he/she effectively “ran away” with no intention of returning. Your spouse must be missing or away for 12 months if you intend to use actual desertion as a cause for at-fault divorce.
  • One-Year Separation: If you and your spouse have lived apart with no sexual contact in a year, this will serve to satisfy the court’s requirement for an absolute divorce. In this case, you and your spouse do not need to agree on the divorce terms.
  • Incarceration: Maryland is very particular about the requirements for filing an at-fault divorce for imprisonment. First of all, your spouse must have a sentence of more than 36 months, and you can not get divorced until the first year of that sentence has been served. 
  • Insanity: If you think the requirements for an incarceration divorce are strict, the insanity requirements are even stiffer. To file for at-fault divorce In Maryland on the grounds of insanity, you must show that your spouse has been admitted to a mental hospital for a minimum of 36 months due to an incurable mental illness with no chance for improvement. This must be corroborated by two psychiatrists. This type of at-fault divorce even includes a residency requirement that one spouse has been a resident of Maryland for no less than 24 months.
  • Abuse: Spousal or child abuse, whether emotional, physical, verbal, or sexual, is grounds for an at-fault divorce in Maryland. Neglect is also alluded to in the statute, saying that “providing an unsafe living environment” also qualifies.

If you and your spouse were hoping to part on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” that is not an option in Maryland. If you do not currently meet any of the above criteria, you can start by filing for a limited divorce, or you can wait out a 12-month separation.


Limited Divorce

A limited divorce in Maryland is essentially what other states would consider a legal separation. You could also think of it as a separation that is being overseen by the court. Limited divorce does not dissolve your marriage, but it does give you grounds for an absolute divorce, which would dissolve it. Filing for a limited divorce is not mandatory in order to get an absolute divorce. Like an absolute divorce, the court will determine whether one party is at fault or not. 

Furthermore, a limited divorce also serves to put in place temporary financial guidelines should one spouse require financial assistance in order to live apart (alimony/child support/health insurance). There is no specific time constraint on a limited divorce—couples can maintain this relationship status indefinitely if desired. On the other hand, couples can also have their limited divorces terminated and return to being married and cohabitating if they both jointly petition the court.   


Maryland Residency Requirements for Divorce

One thing Maryland’s divorce law does have in common with other states is residency requirements. Whether you are filing for an absolute or limited divorce, you or your spouse must be a resident of Maryland (It is not necessary that both spouses be Maryland residents). For divorce purposes, you will need to prove to the court that Maryland is where you (or your spouse) reside.

Maryland has different residency requirements for different divorce grounds (reasons). For example, if you were cheated on or an abusive act occurred, as long as those incidents took place in Maryland, you only need to be living in Maryland at the time of filing for divorce. If the at-fault act triggering the divorce occurred outside the state, then six months of Maryland residency is required by one spouse.


Contact a Maryland Divorce Lawyer Now!

If you are looking to get divorced in Maryland, it can be a lot easier and more effective to navigate our state’s unique laws with an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer. Come in and see if we are a good fit for your needs. Schedule a free consultation with Maryland divorce lawyer Patrick Crawford today by calling (410) 787-6546 or using our web contact form. We look forward to meeting you and assisting you with this challenging transition.


Patrick Crawford

Patrick is an Annapolis Family Lawyer dedicated to helping you through the most complex and emotional family law matters. During his career, Patrick has successfully represented countless people in divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence and other family law cases of diverse complexity.

Years of experience: 20+ years.
Maryland Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.