Is Legal Separation in Maryland the same as a limited divorce?
Is it a state of mind? Is it a myth??
Almost everyday, in both our professional and personal lives, Frederick Divorce Attorneys are asked about “legal separation.” People ask their Maryland Divorce Attorneys “How do I get a legal separation?”
When people ask, they often get a little (or even alot) more information than they probably bargained upon. I think they probably feel like somebody on a first date who asks “where are you from?” and proceeds to get an answer: “my mother went into labor at a hospital in Poughkeepsie… but the helicopter took her to Newark…we lived in a mobile home…my dad moved around in the army….so……” Aghhhh!!!
Now, Maryland divorce lawyers prepare “separation agreements” everyday. Those are not court orders, they are contracts. Now juxtapose that against what we hear on TV and in other media. One constantly hears things like: “Oh, the court GAVE us a legal separation…” or “Bruce Willis FILED for legal separation…” What gives??
I think the explanation is as follows: States like California and New York provide the bulk of our entertainment and news media. I guess in those states there is some legal proceeding where a court declares to the parties “you are now legally separated.” (you may kick the bride) All kidding aside, there is just no such proceeding in Maryland.
Lest I continue to lament what we DON’T have in the Maryland system, let’s look at what we do have.
We have separation agreements. Those are written agreement which are rarely complicated or difficult to understand. They are a contract plain and simple. Those contracts can later be presented by a spouse to the family court in furtherance of an absolute or a limited divorce.
In Maryland we also have a judgment or decree of “Limited Divorce”
That judgment can be presented to the court for an uncontested order. It can also be the product of a judge’s decision after a contested trial. Either way, it is something less than an absolute divorce but includes many of the same provisions. Those include alimony, custody, visitation and child support.
Separation agreements state that the people who enter into the agreement (parties) are separating and that they are agreeing upon their respective rights and obligations during that separation.
It’s not a court proceeding. You either have a separation agreement/document/contract signed by both parties or it’s just a piece of paper. It helps to think of them like a contract to buy a house. You fill everything out and both parties sign. No its not the final divorce YET but it is pretty much all over.
Limited divorce is a decree of divorce. It does not give the parties their right to remarry yet, but again, its pretty much over. In contrast to a separation agreement, this IS a hearing with all the bells and whistles and a judge to bang the gavel and declare you “limited divorced.” They are rare and scarce because most people just skip this stage and get the regular absolute divorce.
So, you see, in the family law “restaurant” one has to order “off the menu.” There are “no-substitutions” and “special orders” DO upset us. Sadly that’s the mentality of our court or any court.
In Maryland there is just no “Decree of Legal Separation.”
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