Maryland 2023 Legislative Changes to Divorce Law

Significant changes to Maryland Divorce Law will be finalized and will go into effect as of October 1, 2023. The new legislation repeals the entire section of the law that permits an individual to obtain a limited divorce and alters the grounds for absolute divorce in the State of Maryland.

Limited Divorce

Prior to the new legislation, Maryland recognized two types of divorce – limited divorce and absolute divorce.​ A limited divorce allowed individuals a basis for seeking temporary relief, perhaps who were unsure about permanently ending the marriage or for other reasons. A limited divorce allowed the parties access to the courts to resolve child custody and support issues, and alimony but did not make decisions on the distribution or termination of properties or assets.  Contrary to an absolute divorce, the granting of a limited divorce did not terminate the marriage and remarriage was not permitted. The parties could end the limited divorce at any time or continue indefinitely with the typical scenario of waiting out the 12 months separation, if grounds not established, and amending the limited divorce to absolute divorce to end the marriage. However, with the new legislation, this ability to obtain a limited divorce has been repealed in its entirety and is no longer available under Maryland Law, leaving absolute divorce as the only viable option.

Absolute Divorce

While absolute​ divorce remains available to those parties seeking divorce, there have been considerable changes to the grounds to absolute divorce. Prior to the new law, parties could obtain an absolute divorce under the following grounds:

  • Adultery;
  • Desertion;
  • Conviction of a felony or misdemeanor with incarceration;
  • 12-month separation;
  • Insanity; or
  • Cruelty of treatment or vicious conduct toward a spouse and/or minor child.

However, these grounds have been repealed under the new law and have been replaced with the following:

  • 6-month separation if the parties have lived separate and apart for 6 months without interruption before the filing of the application for divorce even if the parties are living under the same roof or if separation is in accordance with a court order;
  • Irreconcilable differences based on the reasons stated by the complainant for the permanent termination of the marriage. The bill specifies that parties who have pursued separate lives must be deemed to have lived separate and apart for purposes of the ground of six-month separation even if the parties reside under the same roof or the separation is in accordance with a court order; or
  • In Permanent legal incapacity of a party who permanently lacks the capacity to make decisions.

Under current law, a court may also grant an absolute divorce on the ground of mutual consent. The bill does not alter provisions regarding an absolute divorce based on this ground. In some cases, the court may also grant a divorce based on the permanent legal incapacity of a spouse to make decisions.

Please access the Fiscal and Policy note here for more information. Legislation – SB0036 (

Impact of New Legislation

The new legislative will have significant impact on those who wish to obtain a divorce and those attorneys who represent them. Some advantages to the new law are as follows:

  • Obtaining a divorce is easier and quicker for the parties as the time frame required to do so is significantly lessened.
  • Parties may remain in their shared home and “live under the same roof” while awaiting the 6-month separation time to lapse provided the parties live separate and apart.
  • Conflicts and stress between the parties and the effects on the children are potentially reduced and hopefully will allow for an easier transition for families.
  • While the original grounds for absolute divorce have been repealed, those former grounds may still be considered as factors when deciding child, alimony, and other divorce related issues.

While the advantages to the legislation are quite appealing there are still some questions left to be answered such as:

  • How will the courts handle those limited and absolute divorces that have been filed before October 1, 2023, when the new law goes into effect?
  • Will clients feel disadvantaged without the “legal crutch” of the limited divorce when uncertain whether to permanently end their marriage?
  • How will define Maryland irreconcilable differences? Generally, the definition is broad in that it refers to the inability for a married couple to resolve their differences to save the marriage creating the basis for a no-fault divorce.  Will misbehavior on the part of spouse remain relevant for support and monetary determinations?
  • What guidelines will the court utilize when deciding a case based on the permanent incapacity of a party?  Health insurance decisions and financial support decisions are a few factors that must be addressed when deciding these issues.

Over the next few months, we will await the court recommendations and move forward toward what is expected to be a more efficient, expeditious, and less stressful process for obtaining a divorce for both clients and attorneys.

Court Proceedings – What to Know Before You Go

If you are anticipating a court hearing in which you are a party, you are most likely experiencing anxiety at the thought of having to go to court. However, that anxiety can be significantly reduced by following a few simple steps.

One of the most important steps you can take is to hire an attorney if you can afford one. An attorney can help you to navigate legal language and procedures and can ensure that you are fully and fairly represented in court. If you are unable to afford an attorney there are other options.

  • Find a Pro Bono Attorney: Do so as soon as possible. Public defenders handle criminal cases while volunteer attorneys represent civil matters, including family law and tax, housing, and other legal issues. 
  • Prepare: If you must represent yourself, contact the court clerk’s office in the county where your case is filed to find legal resources that will direct you through the process. These resources include self-help legal clinics where you can learn the law and receive assistance with filing required pleadings or responses. You can obtain necessary forms and other information on the Maryland court’s website at and the Maryland People’s Law Library website at
  • File Your Paperwork on Time: Generally, there is a time limit to file court documents. Failure to do so could result in the case being dismissed or the court entering a default order against you.  
  • Service of Process: Complete, sign and serve the required documents to the opposing party. All pleadings must be mailed to the court and the opposing party with proof that this action was taken. Court documents are often served by a sheriff, an attorney, or an adult 18 years of age or older who is not a party to the case. A private process server or certified restricted mail delivery can also be used.   

The new MVLS factsheet on Courtroom Procedures – What to Know Before You Go is a step-by-step guide to courtroom procedure and protocols to ensure that your time in the court is less stressful and that a successful outcome is more likely. 

If you are a volunteer working with a MVLS client, you may consider providing your client with a copy of these guidelines. Many individuals struggle with the apprehension associated with going to court, especially if they have never been to court. These guidelines can assist your client in becoming more comfortable with the court and its processes, creating a more relaxed and engaged client with improved outcomes.   

MVLS Volunteers Help Children and Families Through Unaccompanied Youth Project

MVLS volunteer attorneys help children fleeing danger in their home countries through our partnership with Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), the Esperanza Center and the University of Maryland Immigration Clinic. These children, known as “Unaccompanied Youth”, are already in the United States living with adult sponsors, usually family members. They seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in order to remain here.

A state court order is a prerequisite to filing for SIJS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). MVLS volunteers are paired with the adult sponsors of children for their initial state court cases. For lawyers familiar with Maryland custody law, taking on this type of case is a natural fit. There is only one additional step beyond a normal custody case – obtaining a predicate order for SIJS. After the predicate order is established, another attorney represents the child before USCIS.

MVLS volunteers are paired with adult sponsors living in Baltimore City and County, Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, and all other counties that MVLS serves. The MVLS community has been crucial in enabling programs like KIND to stay afloat. “We work well together,” said Jennifer Jaimes, KIND’s Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono Programs. “I would say that KIND’s partnership with MVLS has been key in a moment where our services to children have been increasing. We get a lot of referrals.”

In the past few months, MVLS volunteers have accepted dozens of SIJS cases. Laurie Hansen, an MVLS volunteer attorney, took a SIJS case both to learn something new and to help vulnerable children. MVLS volunteer José Canto also had altruistic intent: “Helping these children obtain green cards puts them on the path towards success in this country,” he said. But he also anticipated a long-term business benefit. “As these children grow older and inevitably need legal help, who do you think they are going to call?” he asked. “The pro bono attorney who helped them get a green card,” he said. “You have a client for life.”

KIND and Esperanza have offered an increasingly strong network of support to pro bono attorneys. Lawyers who aren’t fluent in Spanish get in-person interpreters. Every MVLS volunteer is connected to a staff attorney for big-picture advice and mentorship, and for the smaller questions there’s a “Random Questions” listserv. Ms. Hansen accepted a joint Esperanza Center-MVLS case. “I relied on the Esperanza Center attorney for help. She provided sample pleadings,” Ms. Hansen said. “I also got a volunteer interpreter from the Esperanza Center.”

In the past three years, KIND has already helped over 300 children in Maryland. MVLS volunteers have stepped up to provide quality legal representation in their state court proceedings. The KIND-MVLS relationship has been mutually beneficial. Mr. Canto enjoyed working with KIND mentors. “The personalities you’ll encounter in this line of work make the work worth doing,” he said. And KIND has appreciated MVLS volunteer help. “It has been a blessing,” Ms. Jaimes said. “Really.”

If you’re interested in participating in the Unaccompanied Youth Project, or have additional questions, please contact MVLS Deputy Director Susan Francis at or 443-451-4084.

Maryland Woman Finds a Home for Her Uncle

David* took it hard when his significant other of 34 years died from lung cancer. He lost 50 pounds, and his finances grew precarious. David suffers from dementia, and since his partner was gone, he needed more care.

David ended up in the hospital where his treating physicians concluded he no longer had the ability to care for himself. The hospital filed a petition for the appointment of a guardian for David, and the court appointed an advocate for him – MVLS attorney Janet Fedder. Janet is an attorney with the Adult Protective Services Guardianship and Adult Public Guardianship Review Board (APGRB) project, a program that represents more than 400 indigent adults in the Baltimore area in guardianship cases.

David was estranged from most of his family, but his niece Heather* was always there for him. Heather was very sympathetic to her uncle’s needs, and spoke to several attorneys about the case. But after speaking with them, she was left confused and with incorrect information about the guardianship process. Heather inaccurately believed that she would need to contribute to the cost of the guardianship proceedings as well David’s physical and medical care if she became his guardian.

As David’s advocate, Janet thoroughly and patiently explained the guardianship process to Heather and also informed her about what her legal rights and responsibilities would be if she were appointed David’s guardian. After discussing the matter with Heather, and knowing that David wanted Heather to be his legal guardian, Janet argued for that at the circuit court guardianship hearing. After Heather was appointed guardian, Janet then went above and beyond to help Heather navigate the nursing home system to find the best possible care for David. Because of the hard work of Janet and Heather, David is now in a comfortable, accepting aging care facility.

As the case drew to a close, Heather wrote Janet this note:

“I just wanted to thank you for all your time and effort you gave my uncle, [David]. I was very much ignorant of the system and through your guidance I feel my uncle has the best care. I now am in control of his care without the burden of his finances. Your concern for my affairs makes me so grateful for lawyers like you.”

To help people like David, attorneys can accept representation of an indigent petitioner. Contact Michelle Swift at or (443) 451-4068 to volunteer.


*Names have been changed