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  • Writer's pictureSteffani Langston

Untying the Knot: Understanding the Differences Between Divorce vs. Legal Separation vs. Annulment in Maryland

When you are faced with the decision to end your marriage (or if you feel as though the decision is being made for you) these three terms are often thrown around and are sometimes used interchangeably. What is the difference between divorce, legal separation, and annulment, and what options are available to you in Maryland?




Divorce


The only process to undo a legal marriage in Maryland is divorce. Generally speaking, when a married couple is looking to end their marriage, they will have to divide the marital property that was acquired during the marriage. A married couple will also need “grounds” for divorce, meaning they must be able to give the court a reason as to why they want to be divorced. In Maryland, those grounds are irreconcilable differences, six-month separation, and Mutual Consent divorce. Regardless of the grounds for divorce, and regardless of if both parties are in agreement with the decision to divorce, the divorce process will deal with the division of assets, alimony, custody, and child support.


Legal Separation


Although some states might have a way in which to legally separate from your spouse without divorcing, Maryland is not one of those states. Simply put, if you are not divorced, then you are still legally married to your spouse. However, there are some scenarios where it might make sense to stay legally married (such as the need to remain on your spouse’s health insurance, or for religious reasons), but you and your spouse wish to live separate lives. In that case, you could consider entering into a “Postnuptial Agreement.” This is a legally binding agreement between the spouses that outlines how you will handle finances, the division or acquisition of marital property, and spousal support while still legally married, without actually divorcing. Your spouse will still legally be your spouse, but you can separate your lives as much as possible without actually divorcing by entering into a Postnuptial Agreement. (Also, you do not need to be divorced in order to address custody, child support, or alimony.)


Annulment


Annulment is a confusing term because there is religious annulment and legal annulment. Unlike celebrities who have their Las Vegas weddings annulled within hours (ex. Britney Spears), legal annulment is extremely rare in Maryland. In order to have your marriage annulled in Maryland, you have to prove that your marriage is “void” or “voidable” meaning that the marriage was procured through fraud, or the parties were unable to legally enter into the marriage to begin with (such as being close relatives, or one spouse still married to someone else.)


It should also be noted that Maryland does NOT recognize common law marriage, so under the laws of Maryland, you are either married, or not married. If you and your partner are living a shared life, but are not married, you are not afforded the legal protections that the legal process of divorce would provide if you separate. If you are cohabitating and are interested in the protections and legal benefits of marriage, but wish to live your lives separate and apart, it might be a good idea to discuss Prenuptial Agreements with a family law attorney to understand the risks and benefits of cohabitation vs. marriage and your options for each.


If you want to learn more about your options if you're facing the end of a marriage, contact Wasserman Family Law at info@wassermanlawoffice.com or call our main number 410-842-1070.

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Disclaimer: Opinions and conclusions in these blog posts are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. For legal advice, you should directly consult a lawyer to discuss the specific facts of your matter.


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