Grounds for Divorce in Maryland

There are three principal players involved in your marriage that will also be involved in your divorce: you, your spouse, and the state. You cannot simply break up, saddle your charger, and ride off into the sunset. Among other legal considerations, you have to give the state an acceptable reason why you should be allowed to break up. The reason is known as the ground for your divorce. Over the years each state has enacted legislation that governs acceptable grounds.

There are different grounds for a divorce, separation, and annulment. In the case of an absolute divorce, there are six (6) grounds for a court to grant an absolute divorce:

  • adultery;
  • desertion (constructive and actual);
  • voluntary separation;
  • criminal conviction of a felony or misdemeanor;
  • two-year separation;
  • insanity

Any one of these grounds, if proved, will result in the complete dissolution of the marriage (look to each ground in order to find out how to prove that ground). You can file for divorce under more than one ground: for instance, adultery and desertion.

In the case of a limited divorce, there are four (4) grounds for a court to grant a limited divorce:

  • cruelty (against the child of the complaining party and/or against the complaining party);
  • excessive cruelty;
  • desertion (construction and actual);
  • voluntary separation.

Although any one of these grounds is enough for a limited divorce, a limited divorce will not completely terminate your marital status. In order to do so you must either seek an absolute divorce or an annulment.

In Maryland there are two types of annulment. In the first type the marriage is declared void ab initio, or from its inception, as though it had never existed. You do not legally have to go to court to have the marriage declared void ab initio, although it's a good idea to do so. In the case of an annulment, a marriage must be "totally void" in order for it to be considered annulled.

There are two characteristics of a "totally void" marriage:

  • the marriage posses some defect rendering it susceptible to collateral attack (some evidence that shows the marriage never happened or should have never happened) even after the death of one or both spouses; and
  • no direct step or proceeding to annul is necessary (although the latter may be desirable).

One such defect is if your spouse was formally married to someone else and still has not divorced that person. Your marriage to this spouse is considered totally void.

Another defective marriage is one done between "blood" relatives. There is also a provision that a minor of 16 and 17 years of age or younger than 16 could not marry unless the statutory provision of the Family Law code §2-301 is met.

The second type of annulment is called voidable. A voidable marriage can only be annulled by going to court and having it declared void. . Annulment is available in Maryland, and in some cases it can be obtained under the name of a divorce. Along with obtaining an annulment for bigamy and for lack of consensual age, a marriage may be declared void if the parties did not really intend to marry or if they are incapacitated, as in insanity, intoxication, fraud, and duress. Although annulments may be granted, the preference of the court is not to annul, but for the parties to divorce. Also, any marriage that is expressly prohibited by statute is void by annulment.

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