How to Get a Legal Separation Agreement in Maryland
March 15th, 2023
A year can be a long time to support yourself and your children while you are waiting to get divorced. Filing a complaint for limited divorce or getting a legal separation agreement can help. These legal tools allow you and your spouse to set the rules for your separation period, covering everything from child custody to paying the bills. They can also make it easier to get your Judgment of Absolute Divorce, when that time comes.
Can You Get a Legal Separation in Maryland?
There is no legal proceeding called “legal separation” in Maryland. The closest thing is a “Limited Divorce.” Most often, Maryland residents will file a complaint for limited divorce if they are trying to separate from their spouses, but either have children in common or can’t support themselves without help from the other party in the interim.
Remember that in Maryland, there is a 12-month waiting period before filing a complaint for no-fault divorce. There are other, fault-based grounds for divorce, but if those don’t apply and you can’t file a Mutual Consent Divorce, you may be stuck waiting for the time limit to run out. A limited divorce can help bridge the gap between when you (or your spouse) move out and when you receive your final Judgment of Absolute Divorce.
A limited divorce gives the Maryland Court in the county where you live the power to direct how your separation will play out, and provide temporary relief until you can get an absolute divorce (often after the 12-month separation period has expired). When you or your spouse asks for a legal separation by filing a Complaint for Limited Divorce, you aren’t asking for the Court to end the marriage - instead you are asking the court to enter interim (temporary) orders that:
- Control child custody and visitation
- Direct who will pay for health insurance, mortgage, rent, utilities, and other ongoing household expenses
- Order child support and alimony (also called spousal support) payments
- Decide who will be allowed to remain in the home or use family property
- Order one party to pay the other’s attorney fees or suit money
Learn More about Absolute vs Limited Divorces in Maryland.
When Can You Get a Legal Separation in Maryland?
One of the benefits of a limited divorce action in Maryland is that it can be filed as soon as you and your spouse separate. There is no waiting period. Separation happens as soon as you and your spouse live in different homes (not just sleeping in separate rooms in the same house) and end intimate relations. You can start pursuing legal separation in the form of a limited divorce action as soon as that happens. You can also sometimes preemptively file a complaint for limited divorce to obtain support and custody orders that protect you and your children in cases of cruel treatment, vicious conduct, or desertion.
Some spouses move out before they are sure they want a divorce. This “trial separation” can be used as a chance to attend couples’ therapy, or work on your relationship. Unlike a legal separation or limited divorce filing, a trial separation doesn’t need to involve the court. However, a “trial separation” won’t count toward your mandatory 12-month waiting period if you get back together with your spouse, even for one night. If you do decide to move out, it is a good idea to document when you or your spouse move out, so you can accurately time how long you have been separated, should you eventually file for divorce.
What is a Separation Agreement?
You and your spouse may have started to negotiate what life will look like after your divorce long before you move out. The first steps are often as simple as deciding who is going to keep the furniture and other items. But negotiating a complete Maryland separation agreement is often far more complicated, and emotionally difficult.
A separation agreement is a legal contract between couples who decide to live separately in anticipation of filing divorce. It resolves some or all the issues in your up-coming divorce action, including:
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Alimony or spousal support
- Real and property division
- Allocation of joint debts
If you are able to resolve all issues through a separation agreement, it can speed up the entire divorce process, making you eligible to file a mutual consent divorce. However, even if you can’t resolve every issue, you can still benefit from negotiating a legal separation agreement, resolving what you can and limiting the issues you have to take to court.
How to Negotiate a Legal Separation Agreement Before Getting Divorced
As soon as you know you are going to get a divorce, it is a good idea to hire an attorney to help you negotiate a legal separation agreement. Often, couples who negotiate and even sign a separation agreement on their own find that the document is missing certain elements, or won’t be enforced by the court. An experienced Maryland family lawyer can help you identify the issues that should be covered in your legal separation agreement and work through them with your spouse to find a resolution that works for your family.
Once you do reach an agreement, your lawyer will write up a legal separation agreement which must be signed by both parties (although you do not have to sign at the same time), normally in the presence of a notary. Once that document is signed, it becomes enforceable like any other contract.
You can’t just change your mind or decide you don’t like it. Once signed, a separation agreement can only be changed through a new written agreement signed by both parties. Maryland family courts will sometimes modify child custody, parenting time, and support portions of a separation agreement if there has been a material change of circumstances since it was entered. However, this isn’t easy to do, and will generally require something significant to have changed since you signed the legal separation agreement. Other terms, like property divisions and spousal support are even harder to change after the legal separation agreement has been signed.
At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know how to get you a fair legal separation agreement that will protect you and your children. We will negotiate with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney to make sure you are provided for during your separation, and resolve the various issues that could arise in your divorce, saving you time, frustration, and possibly money. Call (301) 658-7354 or contact us today to schedule a consultation with an attorney.
Categories: Divorce, Family Law