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
  • Alimony
  • 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
  • Desertion
  • Vicious conduct or cruelty

Grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland include the following:

  • Mutual agreement or consent (requires a settlement agreement)
  • Adultery
  • Imprisonment
  • Insanity

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.

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