Notes From Annapolis: Victory For Consenting Adults in Divorce Cases

The 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended with the enrollment of a bill that will soon generate a quiet revolution in the practice of family law. Governor Hogan has not officially signed it, but HB 472 (Family Law-Grounds for Divorce-Mutual Consent) is likely to be approved and go into effect on October 1, 2015.

HB 472 authorizes a court to decree an absolute (i.e. final) divorce on the ground of mutual consent.  In order to use the ground of mutual consent, spouses cannot have any minor child in common and must execute and submit to the court a written settlement agreement that is signed by both parties. This agreement must resolve all issues related to alimony and the distribution of property, and neither party may file a pleading to set aside the agreement. Additionally, both parties are also required to appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.

HB 472 significantly eases the requirements for a no-fault divorce in Maryland.  Under our current law, spouses are required to live in two different homes and refrain from any sexual relationship for a minimum of one year before they are entitled to file for an absolute divorce.  HB 472 eliminates these requirement for couples without minor children in common. However, it does require these couples to sign a written settlement agreement that addresses money issues that relate to marriage, such as alimony and property.  If divorcing couples can accomplish this task, then they can promptly move forward and resume their status as single individuals without the expense of moving to a new home or dealing with the intrusive inquiry about their sexual relationship with one another.

While HB 472 does not eliminate all difficulties after an irreparable rupture between spouses, the new law offers consenting adults new options on moving forward with their lives.  The new law encourages both thoughtful planning and timely resolution which will hopefully decrease the stress associated with divorce.