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Maryland Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
To begin the divorce, the plaintiff completes a complaint for Absolute Divorce form and the Civil Domestic Case Information Report.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The plaintiff files these papers in the Circuit Court of his or her county of residence. Maryland has eight circuit courts, with each court covering one or more counties. The state judicial branch website also has links to all of the circuit court websites. At the time of filing, the plaintiff must either pay a filing fee to the court or request a fee waiver.
Once the complaint has been filed with the clerk of court, the court clerk issues a Writ of Summons along with a copy of the complaint. The complaint and the summons must then be served on the defendant spouse.
Serving the Documents
Service of process means that the defendant receives copies of the divorce paperwork so he or she has notice that the divorce has been filed in the courts. Under Maryland law, the defendant may be served by receiving a copy of the complaint and the writ of summons in a number of different ways.
Once service is completed, the plaintiff should receive proof of service from the server, be it the sheriff, a private process server, a third party or the U.S. Postal Service’s receipt. This proof, which is in the form of an affidavit, shows that the defendant was properly served.
Disclosing Financial Information
Both spouses complete financial statements, which include information about each party’s individual assets, liabilities, income and expenses as well as any joint property and debts.
If either side requests child support, the court relies on the information in these statements to make an order. Therefore it is very important that the financial information be as accurate as possible.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
In a contested action, the defendant must file an Answer to the divorce complaint, which allows him or her to admit or deny the statements contained in the divorce complaint.
If the defendant lives in Maryland, he or she has 30 days to file an answer, an out-of-state defendant has 60 days, and a defendant who is out of the country has up to 90 days to file an answer.
The defendant may also file a Counter Complaint for Absolute Divorce. Unlike the answer, the counter complaint allows the defendant to state grounds different than what the plaintiff wrote in the initial complaint. The answer and/or counter complaint may be mailed to the plaintiff; no formal service is required.
Finalizing the Divorce
The answer depends on the jurisdiction, and whether the spouses are in agreement. An uncontested divorce can be completed in as little as thirty days, and a fully litigated case can take more than a year. Similarly, mediation may take several sessions, over months or years depending on the complexity of the case and how much the spouses’ positions vary.
Maryland law requires equitable distribution of property in a divorce. The court determines a fair award of property and debt. Unless the couple can reach a settlement, the court divides the marital property, pension, retirement, profit sharing or deferred-compensation plans. The court considers contributions of each party, the well being of the family, the property value, the economic circumstances of each spouse as well as current situations such as age, mental state, the duration of the marriage, and the interest each party has in the property.
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