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Once One Party Has Filed For A Divorce In Maryland, What Is The Timeline Before The Decree Is Finalized? What Steps Have To Be Taken Lawyer, Baltimore, MD

Divorce can be a lengthy or rapid procedure depending on the circumstances and the parties involved. In general, in Maryland, finalizing the divorce can take anywhere from three to four months, all the way up to a year and more. Often this will depend on the level of contention, and whether there are children or property involved.

Either way, the initial steps tend to be the same, though even there some delays can begin to emerge.

How Long Will It Take For Your Spouse To Receive Summons After Filing For Divorce In Maryland?

Generally, the court issues a summons within one or two days of a person’s filing. In the olden days (before COVID) you could wait at the courthouse for the summons to be presented the same day, and that would enable you to serve the opposing party with a summons in complaint.

During COVID, however, most of this has to be done by mail, so you will have to wait for the court to send the summons, which only some courts are issuing as electronic documents. Several jurisdictions do, however, accept electronic filings, which can speed things up as the other party can download it electronically once it’s presented. Nevertheless, that’s at least a two-day process, or, if it has to be sent by mail, it could take a week.

Can A Couple Be Separated And Still Live In The Same House?

Maryland divorce law changed October 1, 2023 to allow parties to divorce while still living together. The law removed several grounds and settles on grounds of mutual consent, six (6) month separation and irreconcilable differences. Parties do not have to separate to qualify for a mutual consent divorce or a divorce based on irreconcilable differences. While couples are welcome to live however, they want, including sleeping in different bedrooms within the same house, if they wish to show separation, the must live apart for six (6) months.

In order to file for a no-fault divorce in Maryland, voluntary separation is one of the two no-fault conditions accepted by courts and comes with rather strict requirements. The couple must live apart, for six (6) months, and refrain from having any sex with each other during that time.

When Do The First Delays Begin To Occur In Maryland Divorces?

Once the other party receives the summons that starts the case, regardless of whether you used a sheriff, the mail, or a proper process server to serve them. Then, you usually will need to file an affidavit of service, which puts the court party on notice.

The other party has 30 days or so to respond. That process can be very efficient and takes a week or two, depending on how available the other party is and what kind of service (i.e., a sheriff or a process server) is used. In some cases, however, it can take months if the other party refuses service or is not able to be located.

Especially if someone is deliberately being hard to find. Some people go out of state and haven’t seen their spouses in several months or even years. This delays the case from getting started.

When Will The First And Subsequent Court Hearings Or Trial Dates Occur?

After the affidavit of service is filed, the court usually arranges a scheduling hearing, and that usually can be done within three weeks or so of service. The scheduling hearing will then set the dates for the case, and this is where the circumstances will determine the timeline.

If you are having an uncontested divorce, the first court date will occur within weeks after that scheduled hearing. If there are other issues, such as kids and property involved, those will have to be dealt with first.

If there is any disagreement over who will have custody over any children, then you first need to have a custody trial within three to four months. If there is shared property, such as a house, involved, then that will be followed by a divorce property trial, which is bifurcated within a year or so after that custody trial.

Those kinds of divorces are complex, and it can take a year or more to get a final result.

What Delays Can Occur Between Trials And Court Dates During Divorce Proceedings?

During the long time before or between trial dates, the court or other party will often build in other interventions which can significantly add time to the procedure.

For example, the case may require Pendente Lite hearings (PL), which can start within a month or two of the scheduling hearing. These hearings are used to impose temporary measures, including, for example, temporary child custody arrangements while waiting for the outcome of the proper hearings or decisions.

A month or two after the PL hearing, you might have to deal with another status conference, and then the custody case could go to trial, which can take five to six months just to get to trial. With COVID everything is a little backed up as well, but ideally, you would have your custody trial within three months or so.

How Much Time Do Custody Or Property Evaluations Add To Divorce Proceedings

Another thing they do in the courts is ask for or require custody evaluations. During these, a social worker will go into homes and evaluate the parties, the kids, and things of that nature. That process alone can take a couple of weeks.

It is usually included within the timeline of getting to that status conference before trial. So, it should be resolved entirely before you get to your custody trial.

Then, if there is property such as houses, cars, retirement accounts, etc. to decide, you can add four, five, or even six months to get to a property trial after the custody trial. This can additionally be slowed down by discovery (requests for information) and disputes or negotiations at every step along the way.

In Summary, Divorces Can Be Quite Short, Or Agonizingly Slow

Clearly, there are many different components that need to be taken into account altogether. In short, though, you are usually looking at least a year for divorce where there are kids, custody issues, and property issues at stake.

You can work back from a year if any of those issues are minimal or not relevant as children and property are the two biggest factors that dictate the timeline of these cases.

If there are no kids and no shared property at stake, you can go directly to the divorce trial about three to four months after the scheduling hearing.

Andrei Blakely

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