ANNAPOLIS – To get a marriage license in Maryland, a potential bride or groom must show identification and provide basic information such as name, birth date and address. Two or more days later, they can marry.
Getting a divorce is a bit more complicated. But Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is trying to make it easier.
Zirkin is a lawyer who works with divorcing couples. He said the three bills he presented Wednesday to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee are an effort to “modernize (Maryland’s) laws of divorce.”
One way he hopes to change the law: redefining what it means for people to live “separate and apart.”
Currently, couples must live apart for one or two years, depending on the circumstances, before they can be divorced. But he has seen an increasing number of couples who cannot afford two households, which effectively means “people who don’t have money are therefore not able to get a divorce,” Zirkin said.
His solution? Don’t move out of the house, just move out of the bedroom.
Zirkin’s bill — cross-filed in the House of Delegates — would allow parties to live in the same home, as long as they maintained separate bedrooms. And, like current law, both parties must swear in court they did not have sex with each other during the allotted time period.
Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, said he had mixed emotions about the bill.
“How can a couple live under the same roof and not have sex for 12 months?” he asked.
Laure Ruth, representing the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, said it shouldn’t matter.
“I don’t actually think it’s the state’s business,” she said. “If my husband and I want to get divorced and continue to have sex, or stay married and stop having sex, which I fear happens much more often than we would like to think, it’s not the state’s business.”
Ruth supports the bill and Zirkin’s two others, which would reduce the amount of time couples must be separated before they are eligible for a divorce hearing. The bills would change the time to six months in some cases and a year in others. The length of time depends on factors such as whether both people agree to the divorce.
Zirkin said the current time periods — one or two years — are longer than nearly every other state. He did not have statistics on couples who reconciled during the separation period, but said he has never seen a reconciliation happen after six months.
Hadrian Hatfield, a family law attorney, said he has been working with divorcing couples for 20 years, and has never seen one come to him on a whim.
“People come to the decision to divorce with much more gravity, many times, than they do to marry,” he said.
“I think after six months, they know,” she said. “The reality is, many, many marriages end in divorce. Our law is behind the times.”