When somebody decides that they’re ready to get divorced in Maryland, they have three choices:
- File for absolute divorce—having the court decide on contested issues.
- Go through mediation—for couples who have few contested issues.
- File an uncontested divorce—reaching a mutual agreement before going to court.
Alternatively, some parties just want to separate and don’t do anything in terms of going through the courts. These couples just separate and live separately for a period, without putting anything in writing, before they file for divorce.
Is There Any Benefit to Filing for Divorce Before Your Spouse Does in Maryland?
Generally, there is no benefit to filing for divorce before your spouse does. Often people look at a court case like a criminal case as seen on TV, where there’s a plaintiff and a defendant, and you want to be the plaintiff. There really is no bad guy in a divorce, being the defendant in a case doesn’t make you the bad guy. Filing first does not confer any type of benefit, it just means you’re the one that’s going to be called the plaintiff.
Once you file, the opposing party is likely going to file a counter-complaint, then you’re just going to be plaintiff and counter defendant or defendant and counter plaintiff. It doesn’t make much of a difference.
In some cases, there may be a circumstance where I would advise the client to file right away for some specific reason, but generally, if the divorce is going to happen and both parties know that it doesn’t matter who files first.
What Effect Does It Have on the Divorce Process if the Divorce Is Contested in Maryland?
If a divorce is contested in Maryland, the process will take a little longer, as opposed to an uncontested divorce. Contested just means you and your spouse disagree about one or more of the issues that will be before the court in a divorce case.
In a contested divorce, you might disagree about how to divide your marital property or alimony, whether there will be any or how much it will be. It is very common to disagree about custody or child support. These are generally the big issues that people contest cases over.
Generally, if contested, you will go through a multistep court process:
- File a contested divorce complaint.
- Serve the other party and wait for an answer.
- Set a date for a scheduling conference or settlement conference.
- Parties will take time to conduct discovery, collecting information from each other on how they intend to support their cases.
- Potentially, another settlement conference or pretrial conference.
- Final trial or merits hearing
Often, the courts will order the parties to attend mediation in contested cases. If there are custody issues, the courts can do several things in terms of ordering services from the court, like home studies or custody evaluations. The court can appoint a best interest attorney, an attorney who represents the minor children. These things take time. You might have a last pre-trial conference before you get to the point of having a trial.
A contested case will take longer than an uncontested case. Uncontested cases mean there’s nothing for the court to do except grant you the divorce. If you have grounds for divorce, that will get through in a couple of months, at the most.
A contested case in Maryland will take between six and eight months on average. It depends on the county and how busy the docket is, but in Maryland, the courts try to close all divorce cases within one year of when they’re open. We don’t always make that goal—particularly since COVID.
For more information on Divorce Law in Maryland, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (443) 300-2335 today.