New Law Makes Maryland Divorce Easier: Corroborating Witness No Longer Needed
September 23rd, 2016
If you are seeking a divorce in Maryland, you might think that you and your spouse are in the best position to tell the court whether you have valid grounds for divorce. It might surprise you to learn that until very recently, couples were often required to have a corroborating witness testify as to whether they had lived separate and apart for twelve months.
This twelve-month separation allows couples with no minor children and no written agreement to qualify for an uncontested divorce in Maryland if they do not qualify for divorce on other fault grounds. The lengthy separation is intended to keep couples from divorcing without careful consideration. If the couple spent so much as one night together or resumes marital relations, the clock would start all over again, and they would need to live apart for another twelve months,
Because courts could not, by law, accept only the testimony of the husband and wife as to the length and completeness of their separation, a third party (or some other type of evidence) was required to corroborate, or confirm, their testimony. If you are asking yourself right now, "How could the witness know with certainty that the couple never spent a night together during their separation?" you're not alone. That was one of the problems with the law, which has been amended effective October 1, 2016.
The Problem with Requiring Corroborating Witnesses in Maryland Divorce
In addition to the obvious problem of a witness not having the opportunity to provide constant surveillance to one or both parties, there were other issues with requiring corroboration. Chief among these is...who will act as the witness?
One of the things corroborating witnesses were often asked to testify about was their knowledge of whether the divorcing couple had had marital relations within the previous twelve months. As you can imagine, asking someone to serve as a witness about such personal issues is tremendously uncomfortable for most people. Often, the witness in question would be a parent, sibling, neighbor or friend of one of the divorcing parties—someone who would probably prefer not to think, much less talk about, such private matters.
People might be willing to endure some awkwardness if it served a reasonable purpose. Perhaps the biggest knock on the requirement of a corroborating witness for Maryland divorces is that it did not necessarily do what it was intended to: assure that couples had been truly separated for twelve months. As mentioned, witnesses might testify regarding facts they couldn't know with certainty, or they might deliberately testify to a separation in order to help a friend or family member get out of a marriage sooner. It would be very difficult for a court to know if a witness were telling the truth on this issue if no one contradicted the witness' testimony.
Change in Maryland Divorce Law Effective October 1, 2016
Effective October 1, 2016, parties to a Maryland divorce will no longer need to produce a witness to testify to the length of their separation. The requirement of the twelve-month separation is still in effect, but the amended law means that a third-party witness will no longer be required to testify to it. Although some attorneys fear eliminating this requirement will make it too easy for couples to divorce, most agree that the change is a long-overdue change that simplifies an already difficult and stressful process.
To learn more about recent changes in the Maryland divorce law and how it may apply to you, contact the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, LLC. We look forward to speaking with you.