Ensuring Fairness in a Divorce and Getting to Court Sooner

A limited divorce can provide relief to Maryland couples

By Christine Schuster | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 2, 2023

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Maryland’s lengthy divorce process can send those seeking to end their marriage into a limbo of insecurity and fear. “People are very concerned about the uncertainty when they first separate,” says Shelly Ingram, a family law attorney in Fulton. “Where is money going to come from? How are they going to spend time with their kids?”

Without grounds such as adultery or domestic violence, divorcing spouses may have to be separated for a minimum of 12 months to be seen in court and granted an absolute divorce. “There’s a big period of time where there wouldn’t be any available relief,” Ingram says.

That’s where limited divorces come into play. Filing for a limited divorce allows the court to make important determinations, such as child custody and alimony, during the waiting period for an absolute divorce. “Filing the limited divorce can speed up the process from beginning to end,” Ingram says.

Michael G. DeHaven, a family law attorney at Smith Gildea & Schmidt in Towson, says a limited divorce is a mechanism to ensure fairness throughout the process. For instance, an economically dependent spouse can protect themselves against being financially cut off. “It balances out the playing field so the other side doesn’t use their economic muscle to coerce a settlement that otherwise may not be fair,” DeHaven says.

A limited divorce often saves time on the road to an absolute divorce. Couples with a limited divorce are more likely, with savvy scheduling on the part of their divorce attorney, to be granted an absolute divorce in roughly one year, whereas others typically wait several months more to get a court hearing. Limited divorce can likewise expedite the discovery process, marital property issues and the enforcement of orders, DeHaven says.

You use limited divorce effectively whenever there is a separation and the prospective client is concerned the other client will not be reasonable and fair with spousal support and issues related to the children.

Michael G. DeHaven

Grounds for Limited Divorce

Unlike an absolute divorce, there is no requirement as to how long a divorcing couple must be separated to file for a limited divorce on the grounds of separation. You can file the divorce paperwork the day after you move out, if you wish.

“The fear of not being able to support oneself or feed one’s children is real and keeps people in relationships that they don’t want to be in, and a limited divorce can help,” Ingram says.

If both spouses remain living together, other grounds for a limited divorce include:

  • Cruelty of treatment;
  • Excessively vicious conduct;
  • Separation; and
  • Desertion

Desertion is rarely used because of its similarities to separation, which is easier to prove. If there is no separation, constructive desertion means that one spouse is abandoning and deserting the marriage through their behavior.

“One spouse’s conduct makes it impossible to preserve your wellbeing, health, or safety, or that of your child,” Buchanan says. However, a court typically won’t make a custody determination without separation so the limited divorce on these grounds may be less effective.

Custody and child support in Maryland are always subject to modification—based upon a material change in circumstance (such as employment or residence), and if the change would be in the best interest of the child/children—and you may seek to modify the determinations that were made under the limited divorce at the time of the absolute divorce.

Limited Divorce vs. Absolute Divorce Cases

A limited divorce is a temporary remedy, whereas absolute divorce is the complete dissolution of a marriage. Because a limited divorce doesn’t put all the relevant issues in front of the court, problems arise when it is used as a long-term solution.

For example, a limited divorce will not take care of property division. Any property acquired during the limited divorce will be considered marital property that both spouses are entitled to when filing for an absolute divorce. Additionally, it does not allow for remarriage.

To DeHaven, appropriate use of limited divorce is simple: “You use limited divorce effectively whenever there is a separation and the prospective client is concerned the other client will not be reasonable and fair with spousal support and issues related to the children.”

For more information on this area, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.

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