Since 2015, Maryland has had a “no fault” divorce law called mutual consent divorce. The process is simpler and streamlined. It removes many of the complexities and costs of a contested divorce, and it doesn’t require the married couple to live apart for a year or meet other challenging standards for granting a divorce in Maryland. However, like any other legal proceeding, there are potential complications and risks associated with mutual consent divorce. In addition to consulting with an attorney, here are some specific items to consider.
1. A Mutual Consent Divorce Has to be “Mutual”
While the streamlined process of a mutual consent divorce may seem preferable, if one of the spouses does not want to cooperate, they can prevent it from happening. Under the law, the initial filing must specify the grounds for divorce, so if one spouse files on a basis other than mutual consent, then that party has to agree to amend the papers to be able to proceed as a mutual consent divorce. Furthermore, a mutual consent divorce requires a settlement agreement signed by both parties. Finally, mutual consent requires that neither party object to the agreement prior to the final hearing.
2. The Mutual Consent Settlement Agreement Has to Meet Certain Standards
In order to be accepted by the court, a mutual consent divorce settlement agreement has to resolve all issues relating to:
- the distribution of property, and
- the care, custody, access, and support of minor or dependent children.
The settlement agreement submitted to the court can resolve alimony however the parties wish, but both questions of property and children are subject to standards set by Maryland law. In particular, the parties are required to complete a detailed financial worksheet to comply with Maryland child support guidelines and attach that worksheet to the settlement agreement filed with the court. The Family Court judge will review the settlement agreement and make an independent determination that it meets the best interests of any minor or dependent children.
In addition to the legal standards, there are specific rules regarding the form of the divorce documents filed with the court, the timing of certain notice periods, and the requirements to be met before the court will set a final hearing. Failure to follow these rules can slow down or prevent the divorce from happening.
3. A Settlement Agreement May Not be Enough
A mutual consent divorce settlement agreement will be accepted by the court if it meets the criteria discussed above. However, these terms may leave many issues unresolved. Questions about business ownership, taxes, insurance, and complicated questions about child support like special needs and higher education are not required to be addressed, but they can be a source of major conflict if they are not resolved in the settlement agreement. It is worth consulting with an experienced family law attorney to work through your particular facts and circumstances to make sure that critical matters are resolved at the time of the divorce.
The mutual consent divorce law significantly eases the divorce process for married couples in Maryland. However, it still isn’t “easy”. Cooperation, compliance with the law, and tackling all the issues between a couple are each necessary. If you are considering a divorce in Maryland, and you want to know more about mutual consent and other options, contact Barkley & Kennedy for a no-charge 30-minute consultation.
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