How to Get a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland (UPDATED: July 2019)
In October 2015, Maryland introduced a new grounds for divorce: Mutual Consent. Under the 2015 law, couples without minor children in common became eligible to get a mutual consent divorce, enabling them to skip the 12-month separation period previously required to obtain an contested divorce in Maryland, as long as the couple was able to reach agreement about how marital property would be divided. However, this law has recently changed….
UPDATE: Couples with Minor Children Will Now Be Able to Skip the 12-Month Separation Period and Get a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland
Beginning October 1, 2018, married couples who have minor children will also be able to forgo the one-year separation period for an uncontested divorce in Maryland, and obtain a divorce on mutual consent grounds. There is still the requirement of a written Separation Agreement, and that Agreement must not only resolve all financial issues between the parties, but also resolve custody, access, and support of the minor children.
The introduction, and expansion, of divorce by mutual consent is significant, as it marks a major 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.
Although divorce by mutual consent has become increasingly prevalent in recent years due to its expedient means of achieving an uncontested divorce in Maryland, the disqualification of couples with minor children kept a large percentage of divorcing couples from taking advantage of the new grounds for divorce. As a result, 12-month separation continues to be the most common grounds for a “no-fault” uncontested divorce in Maryland. However, we can expect that to change beginning in October 2018, when the new mutual consent divorce law goes into effect.
3 Common Questions About Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland
Although divorce by mutual consent has been around for a few years now in Maryland, it is still a fairly new concept. As a result, there are a lot of questions (and several misconceptions) surrounding divorce by mutual consent.
When couples are facing a divorce, it is not uncommon to seek advice from friends and family members who have gone through a divorce themselves. However, the problem with this is that, if those trusted advisors went through the divorce process prior to 2015, they may be providing outdated information. For this reason, it is important that you consult with an experienced divorce attorney early in the divorce process, to gain a complete understanding of all of your options. Decisions made early in the process can have a huge impact on the ultimate outcome of a divorce settlement, and getting professional advice right out of the gate will save you a lot of time, stress, and money down the road.
1. How Do I File for a Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland?
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; and
- child custody, access, and support, if the couple shares minor children (effective October 1, 2018);
- Appear in court for the divorce hearing; and
- Ensure that neither party files an opposition to the Agreement before the divorce hearing.
While the process of filing for divorce by mutual consent may 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 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?
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.
2. How Long Does a Mutual Consent Divorce Take in Maryland?
As previously discussed, the new Maryland law essentially rewards couples 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.
Therefore, how long a mutual consent divorce takes in Maryland is 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.
3. 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 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?
For more information, click here for a step-by-step guide to filing for divorce in Maryland.
Talk to An Experienced Maryland Divorce Attorney Today
While the introduction, and expansion, of divorce by mutual consent is good news for many separating couples in Maryland, it is wise to approach this 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.