How to File for a Divorce in Maryland When One Party Is out of State
By Beverly Bird
Filing for divorce when your spouse is out of state depends on two factors. You must have legal residence in the state where you're filing, and you must be able to serve your spouse with a copy of your divorce papers. Maryland is one of the more lenient states for service of process of divorce papers if your spouse lives elsewhere.
Determine your grounds for divorce. Maryland offers two sets of grounds, one for a limited divorce and one for an absolute divorce. A limited divorce is akin to a legal separation. If you want to end your marriage completely, you'll have to file on grounds of adultery, desertion, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, conviction of a crime, insanity, or the no-fault provisions of a voluntary or involuntary separation. All grounds except adultery, cruelty and excessively vicious conduct include waiting periods.
Establish residency in Maryland. There's no waiting period for residency if your cause of action, or grounds, happened in the state. For example, if your spouse committed adultery or engaged in cruel or vicious conduct while you lived together in Maryland, you can file for divorce immediately. If your grounds occurred elsewhere, such as when you and your spouse were living in another state, you must reside in Maryland for one year before you can file. Your residency time and the waiting period for your grounds can run concurrently.
Access a form for a Maryland complaint for divorce. Forms are available from the Circuit Court clerk in any Maryland county, or from a third-party legal document service. The form only requires you to fill in your personal information. If you want the court to order child support or alimony, you must also request and complete a statement of your income and expenses.
File your complaint with the Circuit Court in the Maryland county where you live. If it would be more convenient for you to file in the county where you work, you can use this Circuit Court instead.
Serve your spouse with a copy of your divorce complaint and a summons, which you can also get from the court clerk. It's usually available within 10 days of filing your complaint. Maryland law allows you 60 days to accomplish this, or you'll have to request a new summons from the court. Maryland allows service of process by certified mail, so you can simply mail a copy of your paperwork to your spouse. If he doesn't sign for the mail, you can hire a private process server in the state where your spouse lives, or contact a sheriff's department there to find out if that state provides service by a sheriff's officer. Maryland doesn't allow you to hand-deliver a copy of your divorce papers to your spouse yourself.
If your spouse is out of state, Maryland law gives him additional time to respond to your complaint for divorce. Normally, he would have 30 days in which to file a response with the court. If he lives outside Maryland, however, he has 60 days, and if he lives outside the United States, he's allowed three months.
- Maryland Judiciary: Frequently Asked Questions
- The Women's Law Center of Maryland: Legal Rights in Marriage and Divorce in Maryland (PDF)
- The People's Law Library of Maryland: Residency Requirements for Filing for Divorce in Maryland
- The People's Law Library of Maryland: Frequently Asked Questions About "Service"
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.