Absolute Divorce vs. Limited Divorce Primer
For Maryland couples considering divorce, there’s an option that not every state offers. For many reasons, some Maryland couples choose a limited divorce as either a first legal step toward an absolute divorce or as a temporary means to establish legal parameters while they live apart but aren’t yet ready to make the dissolution final. Also called “Divorce from Bed and Board,” a limited divorce is what some states call a legal separation.
If you live in Maryland and you’re considering your options for ending a marriage, or for separating from a spouse until you’ve decided which path to take forward, it helps to understand the differences between absolute divorce and limited divorce.
Why Choose a Limited Divorce in Maryland?
While an absolute divorce ends a marriage completely, leaving both partners free to remarry, a limited divorce is a formal separation under court guidelines. Because simply deciding to live apart without a legal agreement can leave undue financial and custody burdens on one spouse, a limited divorce establishes legal guidelines similar to an absolute divorce. A limited divorce renders legally binding decisions on the following through temporary court orders:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Health insurance coverage
- Division and use of joint property and personal possessions
By choosing a limited divorce, both partners have legally protected parameters for living apart while still legally married. This could be either the first step toward divorce or it can be the way a couple decides to remain married while living apart either temporarily or indefinitely. It can also offer legal protection to both parties while they attempt marriage counseling.
A limited divorce settles many important issues but the couple remains married.
Does Maryland Require Grounds for Limited Divorce?
Maryland is NOT a no-fault divorce state. In Maryland, a couple must prove at least one ground for divorce, whether limited or absolute, but the court considers mutual agreement a valid ground in both types of divorce. Grounds for limited divorce include:
- Mutually agreed separation
- Vicious conduct or cruelty
Grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland include the following:
- Mutual agreement or consent (requires a settlement agreement)
What Else Makes Limited Divorce Different Than an Absolute Divorce?
Because couples with a limited divorce agreement remain legally married, the following conditions apply:
- Neither spouse may remarry
- Sex with anyone outside of the marriage relationship is considered adultery
- If the limited divorce is for a limited time rather than indefinite and the spouses have sexual relations together, it restarts the time period required to move forward to an absolute divorce
- If a spouse dies during a limited divorce the other spouse may still inherit property
Why Choose a Limited Divorce?
The process for filing a limited divorce is just as complex, time-consuming, and costly as an absolute divorce so many couples skip this step and file for absolute divorce. A limited divorce prior to absolute divorce isn’t a requirement in Maryland. Nevertheless, there are some valid reasons to obtain a limited divorce decree. Common reasons to choose a limited divorce are:
- There aren’t yet applicable grounds for an absolute divorce
- A couple’s religion doesn’t permit divorce
- A couple prefers to remain legally married for financial reasons such as joint business ownership or home ownership
- One spouse may require the health insurance coverage of the other
- A couple may hope to reconcile
If you wish to learn more about limited and absolute divorce in Maryland a family law attorney can help answer your questions.