As of October 1, 2018, true “no-fault” divorce becomes available to everyone in Maryland.
On October 1, 2015, Maryland Senate Bill 472 became law. Among other existing grounds for a divorce, a couple in Maryland could now acquire an absolute divorce as long as they each consented to the divorce, and there was no requirement for a separation waiting period. This new ground for divorce, however, was only available in Maryland to a couple without any minor or dependent children The couple was required to submit a written settlement agreement resolving all issues relating to alimony and the distribution of their property. Their divorce case would proceed to a final hearing for so long as neither party filed a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement. Finally, both parties were required to appear at the absolute divorce hearing.
An earlier draft of Senate Bill 472 contained language providing that the care, custody, access, and support of minor or dependent children was to be included in the Settlement Agreement. However, this language was deleted from the final Bill. Thus, the new ground for divorce by mutual consent was only available to couples without minor or dependent children.
Divorce by mutual consent was brought up before the Maryland General Assembly again in 2018. Senate Bill 120 was passed and becomes effective on October 1, 2018. The legislation revising the grounds for divorce by mutual consent allows the granting of an absolute divorce to a couple with minor or dependent children for so long as the parties’ Settlement Agreement provides for the care, custody, access, and support of the minor or dependent children, and includes an attached child support guidelines worksheet. At the final divorce hearing, the Court must find that the terms and provisions of the Agreement relating to the minor or dependent children are in their best interests.
Finally, in a separate bill before the 2018 session of the General Assembly (Senate Bill 96 and House Bill 849), the state legislature approved legislation eliminating the requirement that both parties must attend the final divorce hearing. Pursuant to the change in the law allowing an absolute divorce by mutual consent, the defendant in the case is no longer required to attend the hearing. The parties are advised however to check with their local county jurisdictions for any requirements that their specific Court might have.