One of the most important steps in the process of getting a divorce in the state of Maryland is meeting the proper guidelines established for separation before your divorce can be finalized. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what separation agreements in Maryland cover as well as some of the key concepts and terms you will want to become familiar with.
The Difference Between “Separation” and “Divorce”
In Maryland, these two words have unique legal meanings. An absolute divorce is the legal termination of marital bonds so that both parties can remarry if they choose. There are grounds for divorce which include several reasons such as desertion, adultery, incurable insanity, and conviction of a crime where 1 year of time has been served. Separation is one of the grounds for divorce and is, in fact, the only ground which is considered “no fault”. There are two different grounds based on separation which are voluntary separation and two years of separation.
The Importance of “Voluntary Separation” and “Two Years of Separation”
In order to get an absolute divorce in Maryland you have to meet certain separation requirements. For those who wish the divorce to be considered “no fault” there are two approaches to separation.
The first is voluntary separation which requires that spouses live apart in separate residences and refrain from sexual intercourse for 12 consecutive months. They also must agree that they have no reasonable chance of reconciling.
The second is two years of separation where the spouses live in separate homes and refrain from sexual intercourse for a period of 24 months. The differentiating factor in this separation is that both parties do not have to agree on ending the marriage. The spouse who wishes to divorce can file alone based on the two years of separation and can have the “no fault” divorce granted.
The Importance of Following Separation Rules
It’s important to follow the separation rules because the spouse seeking a divorce (or the plaintiff) needs to prove to the judge that the requirements for divorce have been met. The plaintiff is required to prove that both parties have been living apart and separate and have not had sexual intercourse for the stipulated time period. If this cannot be proven, the divorce will not be granted.
For a divorce to be granted on the grounds of “voluntary separation”, the plaintiff needs to prove that both parties have agreed to separate, without any reasonable chance of reconciliation.
The Role of a Separation Agreement
A separation agreement details the rights and responsibilities of both spouses and creates a contract that binds the stated terms even before the Judgment of Divorce is reached. A separation agreement is also proof that the two parties have agreed to separate voluntarily. With such a document, it’s easier for the judge to grant a divorce on the grounds of a voluntary separation after 12 months.
Often, spouses agree on living separately until a divorce can be obtained. With the aid of a lawyer or mediator, they may also discuss and agree on other issues like child support, child custody, division of property, and alimony. When an agreement, by both parties, is reached, these terms are put into writing. The document is notarized and becomes a separation agreement.
Separation Agreement FAQs
When a separation agreement is included in a divorce decree, the terms can be enforced through contempt proceedings or as an independent contract.
In Maryland, a separation agreement can be modified when it concerns the care, education, custody, or support of any minor child of the two spouses. The court will make every effort to ensure the agreement is made in the best interests of the child.
Additionally, any provision of a separation agreement can be modified with regards to spousal support or alimony unless the agreement includes an explicit waiver or any clause that specifically stipulates that the relevant provisions are not subject to court modification.
Rules for Interpretation
Similar to all other contracts, there are general rules a separation agreement is subject to. All questions of interpretation are resolved by referring to the language of the separation agreement. The main source of determining the intention of both parties is the language used in the contract itself. The words used in the agreement determine its meaning unless the language is ambiguous.
Disputes About Intentions
The language in an agreement are held up to its “plain meaning”, and not what both parties intended them to mean. In other words, a test of what an agreement means is what a reasonable third party would think it means.
If you are living in the state of Maryland and are going through a separation or divorce, a separation agreement will help you expedite a “no fault” divorce. Contact Wendy Satin Law today at 301.762.1000 and we will ensure you get both the information and representation you need during this time.