Legal Separation in Maryland

Separation and divorce signal the end of a marriage. Maryland law gives these terms very different meaning. These terms mean different things in every state but particularly in Maryland.  If you are considering a divorce, you want to understand the legal differences between the two.  Separation and divorce are two distinct legal processes, each with its own requirements and consequences. This article examines the differences between separation and divorce in Maryland and provide important information for those considering ending their marriage and why this distinction is important to you.

What is Separation in Maryland? (Limited Divorce)

While Maryland does not allow for legal separation, it does offer limited divorces.  So a limited divorce is what people call a separation.  If someone says, “I’m legally separated from my spouse,” they have a limited divorce.  You can also call it a “legal separation.”


What is a limited divorce?  It is a court-ordered agreement that allows couples to live separately and address certain issues related to the marriage, such as property division, child custody, and support.

Here are some key points to know about limited divorces in Maryland:

  1. Grounds for Limited Divorce: To file for a limited divorce in Maryland, a spouse must have grounds for divorce. The most common grounds for a limited divorce include cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, desertion, or, and this is a much less dramatic path, voluntary separation.
  2. Residency Requirements: To file for a limited divorce in Maryland, one spouse must be a resident of the state, and the grounds for divorce must have occurred within the state.
  3. Duration of Limited Divorce: A limited divorce is not a final divorce. It is a temporary agreement that can be granted for a period of up to two years. After that time, the couple must either reconcile or pursue a final divorce.
  4. Property Division: In a limited divorce, the court can make decisions about property division, including dividing marital assets and debts, and awarding spousal support.
  5. Child Custody and Support: A limited divorce can also address issues related to child custody and support. The court can make temporary orders regarding these issues, which can be revised later during the final divorce proceedings.
  6. Conversion to Absolute Divorce: After a limited divorce has been granted, either spouse may request that the limited divorce be converted to an absolute divorce. This can happen if the couple reconciles and decides to stay together, or if they want to finalize the divorce.

Of course, a limited divorce does not dissolve the marriage. Neither spouse is allowed to remarry until a final divorce has been granted.

What Is Divorce in Maryland?

An absolute divorce is what most people think of when they think of divorce. Under an absolute divorce, the marital bonds are terminated, property is divided, and the spouses can go their own way and remarry if they wish.

Grounds for Divorce in Maryland

Before obtaining either a limited or absolute divorce in Maryland, a plaintiff must provide the court with “grounds” or the reason for their divorce. In Maryland, separation and mutual consent are the only “no-fault” grounds for divorce. “No-fault” means that the divorce wasn’t caused by either spouse’s misconduct.

For couples seeking a limited divorce based on separation, there is no time period requirement. By contrast, to obtain an absolute divorce on the grounds of voluntary separation, spouses have to meet the following requirements:

  1. Voluntarily live in separate homes.
  2. Refrain from having sex with each other for 12 consecutive months before filing for divorce.
  3. Have no reasonable chance of reconciliation.

The grounds for a limited divorce in Maryland are:

  1. Cruelty toward a spouse or child.
  2. Vicious conduct toward a spouse or child.
  3. Desertion.
  4. Voluntary separation.

The grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland are:

  1. Mutual consent (if couple signs a written settlement).
  2. Adultery.
  3. Desertion for 12 months or more.
  4. Conviction of a crime with at least a three (3) year sentence and at least one (1) year has been served.
  5. Incurable insanity and institutionalization of spouse.
  6. Voluntary separation for 12 months or more.

In Maryland, separation or mutual consent are the only “no-fault” grounds for divorce. “No-fault” means that the divorce wasn’t caused by either spouse’s misconduct. In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse has to prove that the other did something which caused the breakup.

What Is the Waiting Period for a Maryland Divorce?

In Maryland, if you do not qualify for a mutual consent divorce, you must be separated for a minimum of 12 months before you can file for a legal divorce. Maryland law does not fudge this waiting period.  It requires couples live separately and refrain from engaging in sexual activity with each other for the full 12 months. If a divorce complaint is filed too soon or if the couple reconciles or resumes sexual relations during the separation period, the complaint may be dismissed, requiring the couple to start back at square one.

Does Maryland Have No-Fault Divorces?

In Maryland, a no-fault divorce is a type of divorce that can be granted without either party having to prove that the other was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.  In 2023, the law recognizes that there is not necessarily someone to blame for a breakdown in the marital relationship.  Instead, a no-fault divorce can be obtained if the couple has been separated for a certain period of time, and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation.

What Can Be Used Against Me in a Maryland Divorce?

So, yes, there is no fault divorce but there are at-fault divorces too.  So everything is fair game, including:

Social Media, Tinder, Etc.

You social media posts, your Tinder account anything you put out there that is relevant may be used against you.

Texts, Emails, Google Searches

Text messages and social media are discoverable and your Google search can also be admissible in court.


Accusations of infidelity are still made in Maryland. Romantic relationships while still technically married can complicate an already arduous process. Extra scrutiny during the property division process and unfavorable arrangements for both property division and alimony are possible outcomes.

Excessive Spending

Excessive spending can be used against you in a divorce. During divorce proceedings, financial issues such as property division, alimony, and child support are typically at the forefront. If one spouse has spent an excessive amount of marital assets on non-essential items or has been careless with finances, it may reflect poorly on them during the proceedings.

Do You Need a Separation Agreement?

A formal separation agreement is not a legal requirement if you are seeking a divorce. If you are seeking a mutual consent (“no-fault”) divorce, a separation period is not even required so there is often no need for a separation agreement. If, however, you are not getting a mutual consent divorce you will need to be fully separated from your spouse for 12 months in order to qualify for a divorce. In that circumstance entering into a formal separation agreement is highly recommended.

The separation agreement can put in writing the date that the separation began which can be used later to prove the 12-month mandatory separation period has been satisfied. This can be very useful if one spouse is trying to prevent and delay the divorce. If the delaying spouse has signed a separation agreement stating with date that the separation began it will be very difficult for them to contest that date in court later on.

Can You Get Child Support During a Separation?

Yes. If one spouse has custody of the children for more than 50% of the time they would be entitled to receive child support payments from the other spouse. You can get child support right away without having to wait for the divorce to be final. The amount of child support will depend on how often you have custody (e.g., 60% of the time, 70% of the time, etc.) and how much your spouse makes.

The easiest way to get child support is if your spouse voluntarily agrees to pay. If the spouse consent, the amount of any child support payments can be detailed in a separation agreement or a separate child custody plan. If your spouse will not voluntarily agree to pay child support, you will need to go to court and get an order for child support.