What is the Fastest (and Cheapest) Way to Divorce in Maryland?

engagement ring on a twenty dollar billIf you’ve Googled “average cost of divorce in Maryland,'' or “how long divorce typically takes,” you’ve probably stumbled across a wide range of somewhat vague answers (for good reason). It’s hard to predict exactly how a divorce case will go and even harder if you don’t know the filing complaint. Some sources estimate the average cost of divorce is up to $13,500, taking approximately 12 months to complete, from filing to judgment — longer and much more expensive if the case goes to trial, of course.

Sounds like a whole lot of work, well, because it is. But for those of you who are looking for a quick, clean (and cheap) break, this post breaks down how to do it in Maryland.

Filing a No-fault, Uncontested Divorce

Regardless of where you live, filing a no-fault, uncontested divorce will be the quickest way to divorce — especially if it’s been reviewed by an attorney. The reason being that all major issues are agreed upon between spouses prior to filing. That’s potential hours spent on negotiations without the expense of a court or lawyer.

First, make sure you actually want to file a no fault divorce, which means you’re filing based on irreconcilable differences, and there is no need to prove your spouse engaged in any kind of misconduct. A fault divorce, on the other hand, requires proof that your spouse caused the marriage to fail (e.g., adultery, insanity, imprisonment, etc.).

To file a no-fault divorce, you can do one of two things:

  1. Separate for 12 months, which includes living apart with no sexual contact. Not only will you need to wait an entire year for legal divorce, but you’ll also need two residences instead of one during those 12 months. (Doesn’t sound so quick or cheap, does it?)
  2. File on grounds of mutual consent. Previously, you could not file on grounds of mutual consent in Maryland if you had children. However, Maryland updated this in 2018.

Settling on Your Agreement

In order to file, you’ll first need to reach an agreement with your spouse on a number of critical issues.

  1. How you’ll divide marital property and debts you owe
  2. If alimony will be paid, to who and how much
  3. How child custody and child support will be handled

It’s not a light list, and I’m sure you know what I’m going to say next: hire an experienced family law attorney to guide you through writing this agreement — or, at the very least, to review it, especially if your spouse has an attorney. Do you know what “hold harmless” means? What about “exclusive possession?” If your agreement is vague or doesn’t include the right terminology, you’ll likely end up spending more money in the long run to fix it or find yourself in an unfavorable position.

This written settlement agreement will need to be signed by both spouses. So you’ll want to make sure it is exactly how you wish before making it final. Again, make sure you have someone protecting your rights, even if your spouse tells you you don’t need it or you think you can’t afford it.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

Here’s where your attorney will first come in handy, but if you’re still not convinced, you can find instructions on completing the correct forms on Maryland Courts divorce page. After you file the Complaint for Absolute Divorce, other forms will include sheets like a Civil Domestic Information Report, financial statements, child-support worksheets, and more.

For those who don’t know, absolute divorce legally ends your marriage and settles all issues, whereas limited divorce may settle some issues but doesn’t actually end your marriage.

Once your paperwork is complete, you’ll file your complaint, divorce documents and the filing fee at the circuit court in the county where you or your spouse lives (and send copies to you and your spouse).

Your final hearing is final

Whoever did not file the divorce will need to file their response to the complaint within 30 days. Here, you or your spouse will need to admit to the statements in the complaint (i.e., mutual consent). If you both do agree and sign settlement terms, you’ll be scheduled for a hearing where at least one spouse will need to attend.

The next step is why you’ll 100% want an attorney to review your settlement prior to filing for divorce on grounds of mutual consent. Once a judge reviews the settlement terms — and let’s say agrees upon these terms — then, what is outlined in your settlement agreement prior to filing will be incorporated into your final divorce decree.

Total time of divorce process? Approximately two to three months.

How Much Will Divorce Really Cost?

So how much will it cost? I get asked this question a lot, and no one likes my response, but truly, the cost of divorce really does depend. However, if you’re looking for the cheapest way to get divorced, uncontested divorce is going to be your best option.

Things that will increase the cost of your divorce:

  • If you have children, it’s likely that custody, child support, and visitation will all take additional hours to resolve, and hours often equal dollars.
  • Having a hearing or a trial will increase the cost of your divorce considerably, which is why it’s best to have a lawyer review papers prior to settlement. Remember, hours paid for document review will pan out to be thousands of dollars cheaper than ending up in court.

If you want to learn more about the divorce process and are interested in a consultation, call me at (301) 637-6070 or email dwhitten@dwhittenlaw.com, and we’ll get started.