A common misperception is the couples in Maryland must wait one year of separation to obtain a no-fault divorce. That is not the case. Indeed, Maryland has become one of the most liberal divorce states.
In 2015 the Maryland Legislature added a new ground for divorce—“Mutual Consent.” Fam. Law. Art. Sect. 7-103(a)(8).Under that law, as initially enacted,if a husband and wife (1) do not have minor children in common, (2) come to a written alimony and property settlement agreement (including retirement accounts), (3) do not seek to set the settlement agreement aside before the divorce hearing, and (4) both parties appear for the uncontested divorce hearing, then they can get divorced without having to wait for a one-year separation. Indeed, they did not have to be separated at all.
That statute worked so well that the Maryland legislature expanded it to divorcing couples with minor children. They also took away the requirement that both parties appear at the divorce hearing (but, as with all divorces, the party requesting the divorce must appear). The current statute provides for divorce based on mutual consent if:
the parties execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement signed by both parties that resolves all issues relating to:
the distribution of property, including the relief provided in §§ 8-205 and 8-208 of this article; and
the care, custody, access, and support of minor or dependent children;
the parties attach to the settlement agreement a completed child support guidelines worksheet if the settlement agreement provides for the payment of child support;
neither party files a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing required under the Maryland Rules; and
after reviewing the settlement agreement, the court is satisfied that any terms of the agreement relating to minor or dependent children are in the best interests of those children.
The impact has been profound. No longer will couples have to worry about who is moving out so that the one-year separation clock starts ticking. Rather they can negotiate a full agreement, oftentimes using mediation or collaborative law, while still residing together. Once the full agreement is in place they can promptly get divorced if all of the conditions are met. Divorces based on one-year separation will be limited to those situations where the parties cannot agree to settlement terms and need a trial. For the 95% of the divorce cases that settle, waiting for a year will be a thing of the past.