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Is It Time to Overhaul Maryland’s Grounds for Divorce?

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This blog, the second in a three-part series, (click here for Part 1) looks at other states’ grounds for divorce and how they compare to Maryland, when considering the broader question (discussed in Part 3) about whether it’s time to overhaul Maryland’s grounds for divorce.  Part 1 looks at trends in changes to Maryland’s grounds for divorce over the last several years.  I welcome hearing from readers about their thoughts.

How Other States Approach Grounds for Divorce?

Without comprehensively discussing all states’ laws, there are some notable trends and differences.

Most states’ grounds for divorce fall into the same broad categories as Maryland:

1)      Fault and no fault grounds; and,

2)      Grounds requiring a physical separation and those that do not.

Like Maryland, most states include grounds for incarceration/conviction of a crime, insanity, cruelty/domestic violence, and separation (fault or no fault).

What Do Other States Do Differently?

As for differences, at least 20 states do not recognize adultery as a ground.  Approximately 11 states offer one or very few grounds for divorce, being no fault only divorce states.  And, many states allow “legal separation” as either an alternatively or precursor to divorce.  Among the states allowing separation-based divorce, whether on a fault or no fault basis, separation periods vary from 3 months to 7 years, with an average no fault separation period of 1 to 2 years. 

Grounds permitted by other states of note:

·         Drug and/or alcohol addiction;

·         A breakdown in the marriage, often requiring no separation, having varying titles, such as:

o   Irreconcilable differences;

o   Complete incompatibility;

o   Irretrievable breakdown in the marriage, sometimes requiring failed reconciliations attempts;

·         Impotence;

·         Fraud or fraudulent contract, such as a deception that undermines the essence of the marriage;

·         Pregnancy, if unknown at the time of marriage and by someone other than the spouse;

·         Refusal to financially support a spouse;

·         Varying religious grounds (for example, joining a religious sect disavowing marriage);

·         Bigamy;

·         Deviant sexual behavior, which may include marital rape;

·         Ouster forcing a spouse out of the home and marriage;

·         Gross neglect of legal duties, either to the marriage, a spouse, or child; and,

·         Attempted murder of one’s spouse.

Closing Thoughts

Given the variety of grounds for divorce recognized by other states and developments in Maryland’s grounds for divorce (discussed in Part 1), it is time for Maryland to look at its grounds for divorce, addressing such questions as:

·         Whether to shift away from fault grounds to no fault only grounds?

·         Whether to continue to have fault grounds, and if how expand Maryland’s fault grounds?

·         Whether to further shorten or eliminate separation periods?

·         Whether there is a need for Maryland to offer and recognize “legal separation”?

·         Whether any of Maryland’s grounds are obsolete and should be eliminated?

My next blog in this series ties together Maryland’s trends with other states’ approaches, to consider whether it’s time for a broader update to Maryland’s grounds for divorce and what types of updates.

You can follow Lindsay Parvis for discussion, news, and developments in Maryland family law on LinkedInFacebookInstagramTwitter, and, as well as subscribe to her Newsletter

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