What is the difference between limited and absolute divorce?

A limited divorce is a legal separation that, unlike an absolute divorce, does not legally terminate a marriage.

Married couples in Maryland have a couple of options when it comes to divorce. They may choose to pursue a limited or absolute separation. With a divorce rate of 2.6 per 1,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is obvious many couples are turning to at least one of these marriage termination options. Understanding the difference between the two may help partners find the process that is right for them.

Limited divorce

A limited divorce, sometimes referred to as a legal separation, does not actually end a marriage. Instead, it gives a couple a court-mandated separation. A judge may dictate who lives in the marital home, gets custody of children and pays alimony, but the agreements are all temporary. Because this legal action does not terminate a marriage, couples are not allowed to remarry. Furthermore, if one of the spouses starts a new relationship or has sexual relations with someone else, it could be considered adultery.

Even though qualifying for a legal separation is easier than qualifying for an absolute divorce, couples must still meet certain requirements, such as the following:

  • Either the husband or wife deserted the other.
  • The couple stopped living together or having sexual relations for less than 12 months.
  • One of the spouses abused a child.
  • One of the partners abused the other party.

When these criteria are met, a couple may qualify for limited divorce.

Absolute divorce

An absolute divorce, which is the most common type of divorce, is a termination of a marriage. In other words, after this legal process is complete, a couple will be completely separated and able to remarry or participate in new romantic relationships. The custody, alimony and property division decisions made during these proceedings are often permanent. In some cases, a court may decide to revisit custody, child support and alimony after some time has passed or a lifestyle change has been made.

In order to qualify for an absolute divorce, couples must have legal grounds for separation as defined by their state. In Maryland, for example, there are a few reasons a couple may qualify for marriage termination. Most commonly, the partners have lived apart continuously for at least 12 months. Other reasons include adultery, abuse, criminal convictions, insanity, desertion and unreasonably malicious conduct. Without these criteria, a couple may have to first go through a limited divorce, but a legal separation is not a prerequisite for an absolute divorce.

When a husband and wife in Maryland are unable to settle their differences privately, they may turn to some kind of divorce, whether it is limited or absolute. Because the divorce process can be full of nuances, it may be beneficial to work with a knowledgeable attorney.