Maryland Divorce Timelines: How Long is the Divorce Process?

Close up of woman holding wedding ring concept of timeline maryland divorce

Divorce takes time. It is complicated to untangle two people’s lives. When those two people have children together, the process can become even longer. Understanding the timeline for a Maryland divorce can help you make an appropriate plan for your family moving forward. It can also help you decide whether traditional litigation is the right choice for your family, or if another option will be faster and more likely to result in a final judgment that can meet your needs.

How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced in Maryland?

One of the first questions we frequently hear during a consultation is: How long will the divorce process take? Unfortunately, there is no short answer to this question. How long the divorce process will take depends on:

  • If you qualify for a mutual consent divorce
  • What alternative dispute resolution options you can use
  • If you signed a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement
  • Whether you and your spouse can agree on property, support, and parenting time issues
  • If a waiting period applies, due to the facts of your case
  • How much information you need to gather before trial or to be able to make decisions about your property and finances
  • How busy your court is
  • How many issues there are in your case

With all these factors in play, it can take anywhere from 90 days to two years for a judgment of absolute divorce to be granted in your case. To get a better idea of how long your divorce will take, consider what type of divorce you will be filing, and what the chances are you and your spouse will be able to settle any of your disputes along the way.

What is the Waiting Period Before You Can Get Divorced in Maryland?

If you are not eligible for a mutual consent divorce, you may have to be separated for 12 month before you are eligible to file for an Absolute Divorce. The Maryland courts treat this waiting period seriously. Couples must be living separately and not engaged in sexual relations with one another for 12 consecutive months before they are eligible to file their divorce complaint. If you file your divorce complaint too soon, or if you and your spouse move back in together or resume sexual relations during the year, your divorce complaint could be dismissed, forcing you to start over.

In addition to the separation waiting period, there are two other time limits that could put the brakes on your ability to file for divorce. Before a Maryland court has jurisdiction (authority) to rule on your case:

  • You must have lived in Maryland for at least 6 months before you file the complaint
  • Your children’s home state must have been Maryland for at least 6 months (for issues of custody, parenting time, and child support, with some exceptions)

If you have recently moved to Maryland, or if your spouse moved out of state with your children when you separated you may need to wait to file, or file in the state where your children are now.

Is Fault-Based Divorce Faster than No-Fault Divorce?

Because of the Maryland waiting period for no-fault divorce, some people believe that a fault-based divorce will be faster. It is true that if you allege one of the fault-based reasons for a divorce you could file for divorce even before you and your spouse separate. Fault includes:

  • Adultery
  • Serious criminal convictions (with a sentence of at least 3 years, 12 months of which have been served)
  • Ongoing inpatient mental health treatment (lasting at least 3 years)
  • Domestic violence, cruelty, or vicious conduct, without expectation of reconciliation

However, filing for divorce is only the first step in the Court process. While a fault-based divorce timeline allows you to file for divorce sooner, given the more complex issues involved - the cases can run longer. Fault-based divorces are also harder to settle, which means your chances of following the timeline to its end, and going to trial, are substantially higher than in low-conflict cases.

What is the Timeline on a Maryland Divorce?

Understanding the divorce process will give you a clearer expectation of the timeline on your Maryland Divorce. You can generally expect to go through the following steps to reach an absolute judgment of divorce:

Step 1: Hire a Divorce Attorney You Trust

While it is possible to represent yourself in divorce court, most people benefit from working with an experienced divorce attorney. Finding the right lawyer should be your first step. Treat your initial consultation like a two-way interview, and make sure you feel comfortable with the team who will be representing you through this emotional and often difficult process.

Step 2: Choose the Right Divorce Process

Under Maryland law, you have choices about which divorce process you will use to end your marriage. They all involve going to court at least once, but some give the spouses more control, while others rely more heavily on the judge assigned to your case. Your attorney should explain these options to you before you file anything, so that you can choose the option that best fits your situation, your budget, and your relationship with your ex-spouse. Even if your spouse filed for divorce first, you may still be able to consider some alternative dispute resolution options to shorten your divorce process.

We have covered your out-of-court divorce options before. For the rest of this post, we will assume that you and your divorce attorney have decided that some form of divorce litigation is best for you or your only option.

Step 3: Filing and Responding to the Complaint

The official divorce process starts when one party files a Complaint for Absolute Divorce (or a Complaint for Limited Divorce during the separation waiting period). The Complaint lays out the need for a divorce, the grounds (fault or separation), and what will need to be resolved by the Court. The spouse that files the Complaint (or their attorney) must have the divorce papers served on their spouse, who then has a chance to file an Answer. In the Answer, your spouse can admit or deny each allegation. If your spouse does not want a divorce, or denies the stated grounds (usually in fault-based cases), the case becomes “contested” and will generally take longer to work through the divorce process.

Step 4: Scheduling Conference

At the scheduling conference, both parties and their lawyers meet with a court employee called a “Magistrate” who sets the dates for each step in your divorce process. The scheduling order entered after this conference lays out the general timeline for your divorce, including procedural dates and deadlines along the way.

Step 5: Pendente Lite (PL) Hearing

This hearing controls all the short-term issues that come up in family court while your divorce is pending, including:

  • Child support
  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Child custody
  • Health insurance coverage
  • Payment of household expenses, mortgages, etc.
  • Use of the home, car, and other assets
  • Attorney fees and costs

Sometimes, these temporary issues can be addressed in anticipation of separation by filing a Complaint for Limited Divorce. This allows a historically dependent spouse to live separately without using up savings or going into substantial debt. Unfortunately, many couples must actually be living separate and apart before they are eligible to file for PL relief.

Step 6: Discovery

“Discovery” is the legal process where both parties gather the documents and evidence they need to prove their case. Discovery happens in all kinds of cases, including criminal trials and civil disputes. In family law cases, discovery usually includes subpoenas, interrogatories, and document exchanges. In some cases, parties may also hire experts to set the value of certain property, or be required to submit to psychological evaluations or custody and parenting-time evaluations. If your spouse interferes or refuses to comply with your discovery requests, it can extend the divorce process and send you back to court to enforce discovery orders and get the evidence you need to prove your case.

Step 7: Settlement and Status Conferences

These meetings with the master will make sure the timeline for your divorce is met, and help resolve specific issues. A custody evaluation or best interest attorney report may be shared during a status conference as well. You and your spouse may also agree to use an alternative dispute resolution option, like mediation, to try to resolve your case without a final divorce trial.

Step 8: Merits Hearing (Divorce Trial)

The last step in the divorce process is the merits hearing. This is the formal divorce trial, where each party puts on evidence and the judge or master makes a final decision on the issues. You and your spouse can choose to resolve some issues without going to trial. If you do, your attorney will generally put your agreement on the record and the merits hearing will be limited to areas where you still can’t agree. In Montgomery County, Maryland, in complex divorce cases with custody issues, the Court will bifurcate the case and you will have two merits hearings - the first will address custody and support related issues; the second will address the division of marital property and your final divorce. The rulings made at the merits hearings are final. Unless one of the parties files an appeal, the judge’s decision will be the law for your family going forward.

Ways You Can Shorten Your Divorce Timeline

The divorce litigation process is long, complicated, and often expensive. However, not every family needs to go through the entire litigation process to get a divorce. If you and your spouse don’t have many assets, have resolved many of your disputes (or can do so with your lawyers’ help), or can resolve your differences peacefully, you may be able to shorten your divorce timeline.

Mutual Consent Divorce

The fastest way to get a divorce in Maryland is to file a “Mutual Consent Divorce.” Also called an “uncontested divorce,” this shortens the process for parties who agree they need to go their separate ways. However, to qualify you must have already reached a written settlement agreement on all issues, including:

  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Property division
  • Alimony

You submit that written settlement agreement to the Court along with your initial divorce filings. Then, at the hearing, you simply have to confirm that you still want the divorce to be entered, and – assuming all the paperwork is in order – the judge will sign your Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

While mutual consent divorce substantially shortens the divorce court process, often both parties will still need to work with their lawyers for weeks or months leading up to the mutual consent filing in order to finalize the details of the written settlement agreement. The further you and your spouse are apart when you first meet with your lawyers, the longer it can take to reach agreement and the longer your mutual consent divorce process will take from start to finish.

Mediation and Settlement Agreements

You and your attorney can begin negotiating a settlement agreement at any point in the divorce process, even before the complaint is filed. Many mutual consent divorces are the result of successful pre-litigation mediation, negotiation, or the Collaborative Divorce process. Other cases that are filed using the traditional divorce litigation process are sometimes resolved after discovery is complete, appraisers and evaluators’ reports are in, and everyone has the information they need to get a clear picture of the parties’ assets, debts, and needs going forward.

Whenever you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on all the outstanding issues, your attorneys will work together to draft a Settlement Agreement, Parenting Plan form, and a Judgment of Absolute Divorce to reflect your agreement. This will shorten the divorce process, and allow you to receive a Judgment of Absolute Divorce without the time, expense, and public exposure of trial.

Get Your Maryland Divorce Process Started Today

If you are ready to start the process, we are here to help. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how to guide you through the Maryland divorce process from start to finish, giving you the options and the knowledge you need to resolve your marriage quickly and on your terms. We will help you negotiate your settlement agreement with your spouse and prepare all the evidence for the merits hearing, representing your interests in court until the Absolute Judgment of Divorce is entered. You don’t have to go through your divorce alone. We will help you through the process. Contact us today or call (301) 658-7354 to schedule a consultation with an attorney.

Categories: Divorce