What is a 'Legal Separation' in Maryland?
January 24, 2018
"I’m looking for a legal separation." In Maryland, what people usually mean by that request it that they are looking for a legally binding agreement that will resolve all issues of separation, alimony, child custody or child access, child support, property division and debt allocation relating to their future divorce. The legal document they are requesting is often called a “Marital Settlement Agreement” but is also referenced by the old-fashioned moniker of “Separation Agreement.” The document incorporates a “Parenting Agreement” (if there are minor children) with a “Property Settlement Agreement” and a spousal support agreement is warranted. The Agreement also addresses issues of termination of rights to inherit from the other, health insurance coverage, division of automobiles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, how taxes will be filed and how court costs for the final divorce will be paid.
When you are married in the state of Maryland, you remain married until you are “absolutely divorced.” Having a sexual relationship even after you have a signed, legally binding Marital Settlement Agreement is still considered adultery, although post-separation and post-Agreement adultery may have few consequences in a court since all the issues have been resolved. In Maryland “Legal Separation” most closely resembles a court-ordered “Limited Divorce.” A Limited Divorce case is a lawsuit filed with the court to address pressing issues including but not limited to temporary alimony, child support, child custody, coverage on health insurance and also may address property issues. Seeking a limited divorce would not be necessary if the parties settled their issues and executed a “Marital Settlement Agreement.” It is called “limited” divorce, because the parties are not really divorced- they cannot remarry; if one party dies, inheritance laws may still apply in some circumstance. People seek a limited divorce usually to seek a legally binding document, specifically a court order, when there are no grounds for an “Absolute divorce” (for example, the waiting period is not over).
When I describe what a Marital Settlement Agreement is and how it is accomplished in mediation almost always the parties are encouraged. Once the decision to separate or divorce is made, putting the process behind you and moving on with resolution is very compelling. Find the way to face the issues head-on. Mediation is that way. Stop paying lawyers to produce legal documents in court you will be forced to produce. Stop paying lawyers to rehash the troubles of your marriage. Until you have a legally binding agreement you won’t be able to envision your future. Get your mediated Marital Settlement Agreement by mediating with Nancy Caplan, Esquire.