New Law on Grounds for Divorce and Domestic Violence to Go Into Effect on October 1st

In Maryland, October 1 is the date when most legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor goes into effect.  In 2015, some major changes occurred in family law.  For divorcing couples who do not have minor children and who can come to agreement about property and alimony issues, there is no need to separate and wait one year before filing for an absolute (final) divorce based on the ground of mutual consent.  This development significantly eases the path for couples who seek an uncontested divorce because no one year waiting period will be required before a complaint for absolute divorce can be filed in court.

Another law related to grounds for divorce will also become effective October 1.  While it may not have as much of an impact as the new ground of mutual consent for an absolute divorce, it will now be possible to apply for a limited divorce based on separation of the parties.  Previously, before filing a claim for a limited divorce based on a separation of the parties, the moving party was required to prove that the separation of the parties was the result of a voluntary agreement by both parties.   In certain difficult situations where parties cannot reach an agreement about separation, this change in the law will allow one of the parties to move from the marital home and begin a court proceeding promptly.  While it is usually desirable to resolve pending issues between unhappy members of a couple without beginning the procedure with a court filing, in certain situations, a court action is the first step that must take place to begin to resolve differences.

October 1 also enhances the opportunity for those people who are engaged in abusive intimate dating relationships to petition the court for relief under the protective order statute.  Previously, people in dating relationships were only entitled to petition for relief by using the peace order statute.    Protective order proceedings offer significantly greater relief than peace order proceedings, including court orders that can last up to a year or more instead of the maximum six months available under the peace order statute.  Unlike peace orders, protective orders also require a respondents to surrender firearms to law enforcement for the duration of the court order.  This is crucial because of the Marylanders who died as a result of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of deaths were related to firearms.

Another modest but important change to Maryland’s domestic violence law will be available on October 1.  Petitioners for relief from domestic abuse will now be able to request additional relief to protect them from abuse.  This will enable our judges to order relief that is not specifically enumerated in our statute and is expected to relate to such protections as limiting the physical distance between the respondent and petitioner and requiring the respondent to return to the petitioner certain important documents such as passports, birth certificates, and green cards.