How to Get a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland
As of October 2015, Maryland now has a new grounds for divorce: Mutual Consent. Under the new law, couples without minor children in common are able to to skip the 12-month separation period previously required to obtain a no-fault absolute divorce, as long as the couple can reach agreement about how marital property will be divided. The introduction of mutual consent divorce is significant, as it marks a step forward in making it easier for couples to get divorced in Maryland.
Historically, Maryland divorce law was designed to discourage married couples from getting divorced by making the process difficult, lengthy, and, many times, extremely costly. However, Maryland has made a noticeable shift away from that concept of discouraging divorce in the last few years, evidenced by recent changes to divorce legislation. In addition to the introduction of divorce by mutual consent in 2015, Maryland also waived the requirement for third party witness corroboration in 2016.
While 12-month separation continues to be the most common grounds for absolute divorce in Maryland, divorce by mutual consent is becoming increasingly more prevalent due to its expedient means of achieving an absolute divorce. However, as with any new concept, there are many questions (and several misconceptions) that surround the recently-passed law. Let’s address some of them here.
1. Is a Mutual Consent Divorce the Same Thing as an Uncontested Divorce?
Yes. For all intents and purposes, mutual consent is the same as an uncontested divorce. However, if a married couple has minor children, they are not eligible for a mutual consent divorce at this time. Although it may change in the future, Maryland law currently requires divorcing couples with minor children to maintain a year long physical separation in order to be granted a no-fault absolute divorce. While mutual consent is certainly becoming increasingly more common due to its expedient means of achieving an uncontested divorce, a 12-month separation is currently the most common grounds for divorce in Maryland.
If you do not qualify for a mutual consent divorce, you still have many options for filing for a divorce in Maryland.
2. How Do I File for a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland?
The first step in filing for divorce by mutual consent is determining if you are actually eligible for this type of divorce under Maryland Law. As mentioned above, the option for a divorce by mutual consent is limited to couples without minor children, as there would not be a need to work through issues relating to child custody or child support.
In simple terms, qualifying couples who wish to file for a mutual consent divorce must do the following 3 things:
- Reach and sign a binding Marital Settlement Agreement that outlines the terms and provisions for:
- the division of marital property
- alimony / spousal support, if applicable
- Appear in court for the divorce hearing
- Ensure that neither party files an opposition to the agreement before the divorce hearing
While the process of filing for divorce by mutual consent many appear “quick and easy” at first glance, divorcing couples often find that reaching the aforementioned Marital Settlement Agreement referenced in #1 above is not as straightforward as it seems. Even the most amicable divorces can turn sour quickly when you start “messing with” people’s money.
One of the most dangerous decisions you can make when pursuing a divorce by mutual consent is to to take a one-size-fits-all approach. Too many people believe that all you need to do to get a “cheap” mutual consent divorce is download a form off of the internet, or copy a friend or family member’s agreement, but this decision can be extremely costly down the road.
As a divorce lawyer in Columbia, MD for many years, I have seen nightmare situations where details that the divorcing couple never even thought about when they wrote their own agreement have come back to haunt them years later. Many times, the problem is not that the Marital Settlement Agreement favored one side over the other, but rather that the agreement was completely silent about certain important issues.
For example, let’s imagine that both parties are on the mortgage for the family home, but the agreement states that one spouse will live in the home and make the mortgage payments post-divorce. What happens when the spouse that stays in the home stops making the payments, sending the property into foreclosure and destroying both former spouses’ credit in the process?
Once you have the agreement done and it’s done properly and it has everything in there that needs to be in there now and in the future, the rest of the process goes so smoothly. Then, when you’re implementing that agreement that you worked so hard on and focused on for so long to get done, the implementation then is that much easier.
The moral of this story? While mutual consent divorce has made it quicker and easier to get divorced in Maryland, you may pay a heavy price if you choose to go down this road without professional guidance. If you are facing a divorce in Maryland, either by mutual consent or otherwise, the best investment you can make in yourself and your future is to seek counsel from an experienced divorce lawyer. Your divorce attorney will ensure that your interests are being represented, and educate you so that you don’t make decisions based on short term convenience, but that will result in long term problems. To speak with an experienced Howard County divorce lawyer about your unique situation, call Coover Law Firm at (410) 553-5042 to schedule an initial consultation.
3. How Long Does a Mutual Consent Divorce Take in Maryland?
As previously discussed, the new Maryland law essentially rewards couples without minor children, who work together to reach agreement on the terms of their divorce, with an expedient divorce process. Basically, if you meet the criteria for a mutual consent divorce in Maryland, you are now allowed to “jump to the front of the line.” You don’t have a waiting period; there’s no requirement for a 12-month separation.
So, in terms of how long a mutual consent divorce takes in Maryland, that is all dependent on how long it takes the parties to reach a resolution on the issues related to divorce. If the couple is having difficulty coming to agreement, it is often beneficial to use a divorce mediator to help resolve the relevant issues. Once the Marital Settlement Agreement is completed and signed, the rest of the divorce process typically goes smoothly and quickly.
4. What Are the Pros and Cons of Mutual Consent Divorce?
If you are eligible for a divorce by mutual consent in Maryland, there are numerous benefits, including:
- No waiting period or requirement for separation
- More control over your own future
- In many cases, lower legal fees
However, while the option for a mutual consent divorce is certainly a great thing for many divorcing couples, it can have negative consequences if not handled properly. In an effort to get to get divorced in the quickest, cheapest way possible, many people will attempt a “do it yourself” divorce without legal representation by an experienced divorce attorney. If you are considering doing this, please consider the following:
- While there are not specific Maryland mutual consent divorce forms, many people will try to use standard forms found online, or copied from someone else, to draft their Marital Settlement Agreement. Since there is no such thing as a “standard divorce,” no standard form can account for all the unique variables that must be dealt with in properly dissolving a marriage.
- If the divorcing spouses reach an agreement on the terms of their Marital Property Settlement, no Judge is going to do a comprehensive review of that agreement with your long-term financial and emotional well-being in mind. If you choose to forego legal counsel and use a standard form to draft the settlement agreement for your mutual consent divorce, you are essentially on your own.
- If the terms of the agreement are detrimental to one, or both, of the parties, there will be no one to warn you of the ramifications before it is too late. Once the mutually agreed upon contract is approved, it is binding. Think about it this way: most people don’t buy real estate without an experienced real estate agent or attorney reviewing the contract. So, why would you approach a contract for divorce any differently?
Talk to An Experienced Maryland Divorce Attorney Today
While the introduction of divorce by mutual consent is good news for many separating couples in Maryland, it is wise to approach the new grounds for divorce with caution. Many people view a divorce by mutual consent as being simple and straightforward, and many times it can be. However, just as there is no such thing as two identical marriages, no two divorces are exactly alike either. An experienced divorce lawyer will not only advocate for you to make sure your interests are represented today, they will also have the foresight to alert you to potential issues that may arise down the road. Don’t underestimate the power of professional advice when your future depends on it.
If you are facing a divorce in Maryland, call Coover Law Firm, LLC today at (410) 553-5042 to schedule an initial consultation with experienced Howard County divorce lawyer, Fred L. Coover. We are conveniently located in Columbia, MD between Merriweather Post Pavillion and the Mall in Columbia.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general educational & informational purposes only. It is not intended to convey legal advice or serve as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.