Limited Divorce? Legal Separation? Annulment?

ByKayla Weddle January 17th, 2024

The divorce and separation laws in Maryland have changed recently, reshaping options available to dissolve marriages. Let’s delve into the distinctions between limited divorce, legal separation, and an annulment.

Limited Divorce

Historically, Maryland provided couples with the choice between a limited divorce and an absolute divorce. A limited divorce allowed individuals to address crucial matters such as child custody, child support, alimony, and financial obligations while maintaining their marital status. This was particularly valuable for those lacking grounds for absolute divorce but needing financial relief and intervention from the court. Recent legal changes in Maryland eliminate the option of limited divorce for new cases raising questions about how the state's trial and appellate courts will handle cases filed before October 1, 2023.

Legal Separation

Maryland law never formally recognized legal separation; a limited divorce was the closest thing to a legal separation. Despite this, couples can still create separation agreements in situations where reconciliation seems unlikely. These agreements, whether verbal or written, can serve as evidence if the couple later pursues divorce on grounds such as a six-month separation, irreconcilable differences, or mutual consent. Separation agreements address important issues such as child custody, financial support, health insurance, and property division while the spouses live apart. This is a contractual arrangement that can be modified or revoked, with legal consequences for violations.

Annulment

Annulment is a unique and rare legal action that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed. Individuals can file for an annulment in the county of residence or where the marriage ceremony took place. However, seeking an annulment is no simple task, as the grounds are challenging to prove. A marriage may be annulled if it is void or voidable.

Void Marriages — A marriage is considered void if, at the time of the ceremony, either party was legally married to someone else (bigamy) or if the parties are blood relatives (incest). Void marriages are always deemed invalid, and legal proceedings can be initiated by either party or a third party to declare the marriage void.

Voidable Marriages — A marriage is voidable if consent was obtained through abduction, fraud, duress, undue influence, or if either party lacked the mental capacity to fully comprehend and consent to the marriage contract (incapacity). Unlike void marriages, voidable marriages remain legally valid until a court declares them invalid, and only the victimized party has the right to challenge the marriage's validity. If a couple continues to live together after the circumstances that made the marriage voidable cease to exist, the marriage cannot be annulled.

As Maryland's divorce laws evolve, understanding the nuances of limited divorce, legal separation, and annulment is vital. Couples should carefully consider their circumstances and seek legal counsel to navigate the complexities and determine the most appropriate course of action for their situation.

Kayla Weddle

As a recent law school graduate with a deep passion for family law, Kayla Weddle is determined to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients. Her journey in the legal field has been marked by dedication and a commitment to justice.

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