The Maryland General Assembly this year has passed a law which creates a new no-fault divorce ground, which requires no waiting period. The new divorce ground is that of mutual consent. There are a number of conditions to this new ground. A divorce may be obtained on this ground only under the following circumstances:
- The parties do not have any minor children in common;
- The parties submit to the court an executed settlement agreement signed by both parties that resolves all issues relating to alimony and distribution of property;
- Neither party files a court paper to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing; and
- Both parties appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.
This law makes several significant changes. This new ground does not require any separation or waiting period before a divorce petition may be filed. Often times the parties might be frustrated because they had resolved all the issues between them but yet had to be physically separated for 12 months before either could file for divorce. Now, if the conditions for this ground are met, the divorce can be granted with no continuous period of separation.
However, this ground may be used only if there are no minor children. As a result, it will not be applicable for many of the divorces that may be filed in Maryland.
The requirement that both parties attend the absolute divorce hearing is also new. It was customary before that only one party attend the “uncontested” divorce hearing. The purpose of having both parties to attend is make sure that the Magistrate or Judge is comfortable that both parties are mutually and voluntarily consenting to the divorce, and that neither party has coerced the other into “agreeing to the divorce.”
This new ground for divorce will facilitate a less expensive and more timely resolution for those cases where there are no minor children and the couple has been able to resolve all the issues between them. Many of our clients in the past have been frustrated because even though spouses fully and freely consented to a resolution, they nevertheless had to live apart continuously for twelve months before filing for divorce. This ground eliminates that difficult condition.