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What is the legal process for seeking divorce in Maryland?

There are many steps in the legal process for divorce, and the first thing that spouses may do is separate. While Maryland does not have legal separation laws, some grounds for divorce require the spouses to be separated before filing. During the separation or pending divorce, the spouses do not have to enter a separation agreement unless they wish. A separation agreement is generally incorporated into the divorce decree.

When it is time to file for divorce, a spouse needs to have legal grounds for the request before filing a petition with the court. A sheriff may serve the other spouse with a summons from the court and the petition copy. Otherwise, the petitioning spouse could use a private server or other service to serve the summons and petition copy. The sheriff, private server or other service representative must then sign and file an affidavit to confirm that the other spouse was served properly.

The next step is the discovery process. During this time, the petitioning spouse or attorney gathers evidence and witnesses to prove that the divorce and requested support should be granted. A pretrial or scheduling conference or hearing is held for the court to identify any contested problems. The court might require both spouses to partake in services that help them through the process or aid the court in understanding the family's needs. Next, an early hearing is held to decide on some contested issues.

Finally, if the spouses agree on a divorce settlement, the court reviews the agreement in one more hearing and may incorporate it into the final divorce decree. If the agreement is rejected or the spouses cannot come to an agreement, a trial is held for the court to decide on remaining contested issues and order a final decree.

Spouses who have a lot at stake in divorces, may hire attorneys to represent them. The attorneys might help them craft separation and divorce agreements and file all the necessary forms.

Source: Maryland Courts, "Family", December 30, 2014

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