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 two options when it comes to divorce. They may choose to pursue a limited or if they have grounds, an absolute divorce. 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 divorce 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, pays child support, and pays alimony, but the terms of the limited divorce are terminated upon a judgment of Absolute divorce. 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, but not the cause of the breakup of the marriage.

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.

Although the parties are living together, they are not living together as husband and wife. 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 a final resolution. Custody, visitation and child support are always subject to modification provided there is a material change in circumstances. Alimony, depending if it is modifiable or nonmodifiable, could be subject to modification.

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.