Divorce in Maryland: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect

Divorce in Maryland: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect

by Marjorie G DiLima, Dorothy R. Fait

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Providing accurate and objective information to help make the right decisions during a divorce in Maryland, this guide provides answers to 350 queries such as What is the mediation process in Maine and is it required? How quickly can one get a divorce? Who decides who gets the cars, the pets, and the house? What actions might influence child custody? How are bills divided and paid during the divorce? How much will a divorce cost? and Will a spouse have to pay some or all attorney fees? Structured in a question-and-answer format, this divorce handbook provides clear and concise responses to help build confidence and give the peace of mind needed to meet the challenges of a divorce proceeding.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943886531
Publisher: Addicus Books
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Series: Divorce In
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 260
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Marjorie G. DiLima, J.D., MBA, LLM, is the managing partner with the firm of Fait & DiLima, LLP, in Rockville, Maryland. She has practiced law in Maryland for twenty years. She graduated cum laude from Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, while earning her MBA from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She earned her LLM in taxation from Georgetown School of Law in Washington, D.C. Ms. DiLima is a member of the Family Law Section Council of the Maryland Bar Association. Ms. DiLima is a member of the Montgomery County, Maryland State, and Women’s Bar Associations. She is in her third year serving on the Family Juvenile Law Section Council for Maryland State Bar Association and heads the Rules subcommittee. Ms. DiLima served on the Executive Committee of the Montgomery County Bar Association for three separate terms and currently serves on the Bench Bar Committee for the Montgomery County Bar Association. She is past president and currently a bencher (lifetime position) in the American Inns of Court in the Montgomery County Chapter. Ms. DiLima also participates in peer review panels for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland. Ms. DiLima also serves as an adjunct professor at Montgomery College, teaching family law to paralegal studies students. Ms. DiLima has received numerous awards for her service and leadership, including lifetime recognition from the Metropolitan Who’s Who Registry for her outstanding leadership and achievement in her profession. She has been named a Maryland Super Lawyer for 2010, 2015, 2016, and 2017. In 2007, she was elected a fellow of the Maryland Bar Foundation for her outstanding dedication to the welfare of her community, the administration of justice, and the traditions of the profession of law. In 2006, Marjorie was inducted into the Montgomery County Maryland Bar Foundation as a bar leader, and has received the Montgomery County, Maryland Bar Foundation Award for the Extraordinary Commitment to the Delivery of Legal Services in 1999, 2001, and 2003.Ms.DiLima may be reached through her website: www.fdfamilylaw.com. Dorothy R. Fait, J.D., is the founding partner of Fait & DiLima, LLP in Rockville, Mayland. Ms. Fait is a member of the Montgomery County, Frederick County, Maryland State, District of Columbia, and American Bar Associations and has served on and chaired a number of committees for each. She is a past chair of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Family and Juvenile Section Law Council.During her career, Ms. Fait has served as president of the Montgomery County Commission for Women and was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Family Law. She is a bencher (lifetime position) and past president of the Montgomery County Inn of Court where she currently serves as the program co-chair. Ms. Fait was a commissioner on the Maryland State Ethics Commission from 2000 to 2005 and served as its chair. She was also chair of the Montgomery County Spouse Abuse Task Force for many years prior to the establishment of the Family Justice Center, and is currently the treasurer of the Montgomery County Family Justice Center Foundation. She is also a member of the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.Ms. Fait’s commitment to her community garnered her the Woman of Valor Award from the Greater Washington Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse in 2003. She was named as one of Maryland’s 100 Top Women by The Daily Record in 2004 and again in 2007, and she was inducted into the Circle of Excellence by the Daily Record in 2011. She has been named one of the area’s Super Lawyers in Maryland and D.C. from 2006 through 2017. She was awarded the prestigious Leadership in Law Award from the Daily Record in 2013. In 2015, she received the Founder’s Award from the Family Justice Center of Montgomery County and has been named a Top Lawyer in Family Law by Washingtonian Magazine for several years, most recently in 2015.Ms. Fait may be reached through h

Read an Excerpt

Divorce in Maryland

The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect

By Dorothy R. Fait, Marjorie G DiLima

Addicus Books, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Dorothy R. Fait and Marjorie G. DiLima
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-943886-53-1


Understanding the Divorce Process

At a time when your life can feel like it's in utter chaos, sometimes the smallest bit of predictability can bring a sense of comfort. The outcome of many aspects of your divorce may be unknown, driving up your fear and anxiety. But there is one part of your divorce that does have some measure of predictability, and that is the divorce process itself.

Most divorces proceed in a step-by-step manner. Despite the uniqueness of your divorce, you can generally count on one phase of your divorce following the next. Sometimes just realizing you are completing stages and moving forward with your divorce can reassure you that it won't go on forever.

Develop a basic understanding of the divorce process. This will lower your anxiety when your attorney starts talking about "depositions" or "going to trial" and you feel your heart start pounding in fear. It can reduce your frustration about the length of the process because you understand why each step is needed. It will support you to begin preparing for what comes next.

Most importantly, understanding the divorce process will make your experience of the entire divorce easier. Who wouldn't prefer that?

1.1 Must I have an attorney to get a divorce in Maryland?

You are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce in Maryland. However, if your case involves children, alimony, significant property, or debts, you should avoid proceeding on your own.

If your divorce doesn't involve any of these issues, contact the Self Represented Clinic at the Circuit Court for your county, or go online to Maryland Courts (www.courts.state.md.us) to obtain documents and instructions that are helpful in the simplest of cases. A person who proceeds in a legal matter without a lawyer is referred to as being a self-represented litigant, formerly known as being pro se (proceeding "on one's own").

If you are considering proceeding without an attorney, at a minimum have an initial consultation with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. You may have certain rights or obligations about which you are unaware. Meeting with a lawyer can help you decide whether to proceed on your own.

1.2 What is my first step?

Find a law firm that handles divorces as a regular part of its law practice. The best recommendations come from people who have knowledge of a lawyer's experience and reputation.

Even if you are not ready to file for divorce, call to schedule an appointment right away to obtain information about protecting yourself and your children. Even if you are not planning to file for divorce, your spouse might be.

Ask what documents you should bring to your initial consultation. Make a list of your questions to bring to your first meeting. Start making plans for how you will pay your attorney to begin work on your case.

1.3 Is Maryland a "no-fault" state or do I need grounds for a divorce?

Maryland, like most states, is a no-fault divorce state. This means that neither you nor your spouse is required to prove that the other is "at fault" in order to be granted a divorce. Factors such as infidelity, cruelty, or abandonment are not necessary to receive a divorce in Maryland. Rather, if you have minor children, it is necessary to prove that you have been separated and living apart for more than one year or, if you have no minor children, that you and your spouse have entered into an agreement resolving all issues of the divorce.

The testimony of either you or your spouse is needed that you have lived separate and apart for over one year for the court to rule that the marriage should be dissolved if the requirements are met. This testimony, usually given by the spouse who filed for the divorce, will state that the parties have lived separate and apart for more than one year without cohabitation or any sexual relations between the spouses.

You and your spouse can get a divorce without a separation requirement if you have a signed agreement resolving all issues of the divorce and you do not have any minor children. Both you and your spouse will need to appear for the uncontested divorce hearing under this no-fault ground (called mutual consent).

1.4 Do I have to get divorced in the same state I married in?

No. Regardless of where you were married, you may seek a divorce in Maryland if the jurisdictional requirements of residency are met.

1.5 How long do I have to have lived in Maryland to get a divorce in the state?

Either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Maryland for at least six months to meet the residency requirement for a divorce in Maryland. However, if you married in Maryland less than a year ago and have resided in this state for the duration of your marriage, it is not necessary to wait six months before you file for divorce.

If neither party meets the residency requirement, other legal options are available for your protection. If you do not meet the six-month residency requirement, talk to your attorney about options such as a legal separation, a petition for a custody-and-support order, or a protection order.

1.6 My spouse has told me he/she will never "give me" a divorce. Can I get one in Maryland anyway?

Yes. Maryland does not require that your spouse "agree to" a divorce. If your spouse threatens to "not give you a divorce," know that in Maryland this is likely to be an idle threat without any basis in the law.

Under Maryland law, to obtain a divorce you must be able to prove that you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for more than one year. Evidence of this will be your testimony on the witness stand and, if contested by your spouse, a corroborating witness who can testify that they know you have not lived with your spouse for over a year. In short, it is not necessary to have your spouse agree to the divorce or to allege the specific difficulties that arose during the marriage to obtain a divorce in Maryland.

The Divorce Process

The divorce process in Maryland typically involves the following steps.

If you are initiating the divorce:

• Obtain a referral for a lawyer.

• Schedule an appointment with an attorney.

• Prepare questions and gather necessary documents for an initial consultation.

• Meet for an initial consultation with an attorney.

• Review and sign a retainer agreement and pay the attorney the retainer.

• Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.

• Take other actions as advised by your attorney, such as opening or closing financial accounts.

• Your attorney prepares the complaint for absolute divorce for your review and signature.

• With the assistance of your attorney, you need to prepare a financial statement, usually a "long form" showing all your expenses, income, assets, and liabilities, which should be filed with your complaint.

• Your attorney files the complaint and financial statement with the clerk of the court.

• The clerk of the court issues a writ of summons to the attorney.

• Your attorney has the writ of summons and complaint and financial statement served on the defendant.

• Your attorney files an affidavit of service with the clerk of the court. If you have been served with a writ of summons and complaint for divorce:

• Obtain a referral for a lawyer.

• Schedule an appointment with an attorney.

• Prepare questions and gather necessary documents for an initial consultation.

• Meet for an initial consultation with an attorney.

• Review and sign a retainer agreement and pay the attorney the retainer.

• Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.

• Take other actions as advised by your attorney, such as opening or closing financial accounts.

• Your attorney prepares an answer to the complaint for your review and signature.

• Your attorney may also prepare a countercomplaint for your review and signature.

• With the assistance of your attorney, you need to prepare a financial statement, usually a "long form" showing all your expenses, income, assets and liabilities which should be filed with your answer.

• Your attorney files your answer to the complaint and countercomplaint (if applicable) and financial statement with the clerk of the court and sends a copy to your spouse's attorney within thirty days of service of the complaint and summons on you if you reside in Maryland and are served in Maryland. If you reside out of state, you have sixty days to file your answer. If you reside out of the country, you have ninety days to file your answer.

After an action has been commenced and the answer filed:

• The clerk of the court sends both sides an order to appear at a scheduling conference.

• Negotiations may begin regarding temporary custody and visitation, child and spousal support, payment of obligations, and attorney fees.

• The court holds a scheduling conference where all dates are cleared for various hearings needed, mediation and ADR (alternative dispute resolutions are discussed in chapter 6) are assigned, and any services needed (appointment of a best interest attorney, and/or a custody evaluation.)

• If there are minor children, the parties comply with any local rules or court orders to attend parent education and to participate in mediation.

• The court holds a hearing (called a pendente lite hearing) on requests for temporary relief for access to the children, support, and attorney fees.

• Either the parties reach an agreement or the court issues temporary orders.

• Both sides conduct discovery — the process designed to obtain information regarding all relevant facts — and commence the process of exchanging valuations of all assets, including expert opinions if needed.

• You confer with your attorney to review facts, identify issues, assess strengths and weaknesses of your case, review strategy, and develop a settlement proposal.

• Spouses, with the support of their attorneys, attempt to reach agreement through written proposals, mediation, settlement conferences, or other forms of negotiation.

If you reach an agreement on all issues, then:

• The attorneys prepare a marital settlement agreement.

• Both parties sign the agreement.

• The attorney for plaintiff (the party who files for divorce) files a supplemental complaint stating an agreement has been reached.

• The opposing attorney files an answer and both attorneys sign a joint line for an uncontested divorce.

• All paperwork is filed with the court.

• The court sets a ten-minute uncontested divorce hearing.

Judgment for absolute divorce is entered and you will be divorced.

• Your attorney completes necessary orders and supervises the property transfers, including transfer of retirement assets, until all agreed terms are satisfied.

If you are unable to reach an agreement on all issues, then:

• Your attorney completes all necessary discovery to bring the case to its trial-ready point.

• A settlement status conference is held at the court and pretrial statements are filed by both attorneys.

• If agreement has been reached on any issues, your attorney includes those stipulations in your pretrial statement. All other issues are set for trial.

• You work with your attorney to prepare your case for trial.

• Your attorney prepares witnesses, trial exhibits, legal research on contested issues, pretrial motions, trial briefs, direct and

• cross-examination of witnesses, opening statements, witness subpoenas, and closing arguments.

• You meet with your attorney for final trial preparation.

• Trial is held.

• The judge renders an opinion and judgment, not necessarily right away.

• The court issues a judgment of absolute divorce which dissolves the marriage and resolves all outstanding issues.

• The attorneys supervise any property transfers until all terms of the divorce order are satisfied.

Your posttrial rights are discussed in chapter 16 on appeals.

1.7 Can I divorce my spouse in Maryland if he or she lives in another state?

Provided you have met the residency requirements for living in Maryland for six months, you can file for divorce here even if your spouse lives in another state.

Discuss with your attorney the facts that will need to be proven and the steps necessary to give your spouse proper notice to ensure that the court will have jurisdiction over your spouse. Your attorney can counsel you on whether it is possible to proceed with the divorce.

1.8 How can I divorce my spouse when I don't know where this person lives now?

Maryland law allows you to proceed with a divorce even if you do not know the current address of your spouse.

First, take action to attempt to locate your spouse. Contact family members, friends, former coworkers, or anyone else who might know your spouse's whereabouts.

Utilize resources on the Internet that are designed to help locate people.

Let your attorney know of the efforts you have made to attempt to find your spouse. Inform your lawyer of your spouse's last known address, as well as any work address or other address where this person may be found. Once your attorney attempts to give notice to your spouse without success, it is possible to ask the court to proceed with the divorce by giving notice through publication in a newspaper or posting notice on the local sheriff's door.

While your divorce may be granted following service of notice by publication in a newspaper or by posting on the sheriff's door, you may not be able to get other court orders such as those for child support or alimony without giving personal notice to your spouse. Talk to your attorney about your options and rights if you don't know where your spouse is living.

1.9 I just moved to a different county. Do I have to file in the county where my spouse lives?

You may file your divorce complaint either in the county where you reside or the county where your spouse resides or works.

1.10 I immigrated to Maryland. Will my immigration status stop me from getting a divorce?

If you meet the residency requirements for divorce in Maryland, you can get a divorce here regardless of your immigration status. Talk to your immigration lawyer about the likelihood of a divorce leading to immigration challenges.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, tell your lawyer. You may be eligible for a change in your immigration status under the federal Violence Against Women Act.

1.11 I want to get divorced in my Indian tribal court. What do I need to know?

Each tribal court has its own laws governing divorce. Requirements for residency, grounds for divorce, and the laws regarding property, alimony, and children can vary substantially from state law. Some tribes have very different laws governing the grounds for your divorce, removal of children from the home, and cohabitation.

Contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about the law in your tribal court for legal advice on pursuing a divorce in your tribal court or on the requirements for recording a divorce obtained in state court with the clerk of the tribal court.

1.12 Is there a waiting period for a divorce in Maryland?

No, there is no waiting period in Maryland.

1.13 What is a divorce complaint?

A divorce complaint is a document signed by the person filing for divorce and filed with the clerk of the court to initiate the divorce process. The complaint will present in very general terms what the plaintiff is asking the court to order. A sample divorce complaint may be found in the Appendix.

1.14 My spouse said she filed for divorce last week, but my lawyer says there's nothing on file at the courthouse. What does it mean to "file for divorce?"

When lawyers use the term "filing" they are ordinarily referring to filing a legal document at the courthouse, such as delivering a complaint for divorce to the clerk of the court. Sometimes a person who has hired a lawyer to begin a divorce action uses the phrase "I've filed for divorce," although no papers have yet been taken to the courthouse to start the legal process.


Excerpted from Divorce in Maryland by Dorothy R. Fait, Marjorie G DiLima. Copyright © 2017 Dorothy R. Fait and Marjorie G. DiLima. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 Understanding the Divorce Process,
2 Coping with Stress during the Divorce Process,
3 Working with an Attorney,
4 Attorney Fees and Costs,
5 The Discovery Process,
6 Negotiation and Mediation,
7 Emergency: When You Fear Your Spouse,
8 Child Custody,
9 Child Support,
10 Alimony,
11 Division of Property,
12 Benefits: Insurance, Retirement, and Pensions,
13 Division of Debts,
14 Taxes,
15 Going to Court,
16 The Appeals Process,
About the Authors,

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