ANNAPOLIS — A handful of bills regarding divorce law — sponsored by legislators who have experience in family law — have been moving through Maryland’s state legislature. Proponents say the adjustments — which broaden the scope of eligible divorce cases — could help protect children and victims of domestic abuse.
Under current state law, which is largely believed to be one of the most restrictive in the country, a married couple must be living separately for a year before divorce proceedings may begin, a waiting period that may only be bypassed with proof of adultery or excessively vicious conduct.
But a bill by state Senator Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, would create an avenue to speed up the process, allowing couples to file for divorce as soon as they have come to a mutual agreement with regard to alimony, distribution of property and care of children.
The bill requires an independent review of the terms of the agreement to ensure they are in the best interests of minor or dependent children, a policy which is used in practice, but not currently written into law.
“When you’re watching your watch, waiting for your year to be up, I’ve found that’s the time period when all the mischief happens. That’s when problems start,” Zirkin said at a Maryland House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. “This is like hanging a carrot in front of couples who are divorcing. Work this stuff out and you get the incentive of divorcing sooner.”
Another bill, sponsored by Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, would eliminate the need for both parties to prove that there is no hope for reconciliation and that the separation is voluntary in order to obtain a limited divorce, or formal separation.
Dumais said that requests for limited divorce are rare, but could provide a safeguard in cases of domestic abuse.
“An abusing spouse may not want the separation to occur. Requiring the abused party to prove that both parties agreed to separate could lead to further anxiety or conflict,” she said.
Both bills have been passed by one chamber and on Tuesday were awaiting reports from committees.