In Maryland and the District of Columbia, the same divorce laws apply to LGBT+ married couples as to opposite-sex married couples. Maryland recently updated its divorce laws to become a true no-fault divorce State. Those new rules will apply equally to same-sex married couples as to everyone else. In this article, the experienced family law and divorce attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas Stahl provide answers to some frequently asked questions about LGBT+ divorce in Maryland and D.C.
Q. What are the eligibility requirements for LGBT+ divorce in Maryland or D.C.?
A. For Maryland, at least one of the spouses must live in Maryland at the time the divorce papers are filed, one spouse must initiate the divorce by filing a Petition For Dissolution of Marriage, and the person filing for divorce must state the reason — or “ground” — for the divorce which must be one of the following:
- Irreconcilable differences
- The couple has lived apart for at least six months or
- The couple seeks a divorce by mutual consent
In D.C., at least one of the spouses must have lived in D.C. at the time the divorce papers are filed for at least six months, one spouse must initiate the divorce by filing a Petition For Dissolution of Marriage, and the person filing for divorce must state the reason — or “ground” — for the divorce which must be one of the following:
- Separation without cohabitation for at least six months if the separation is mutual and voluntary OR
- Separation without cohabitation for at least one year if one spouse does not agree to the separation and divorce.
Q. What type of divorce can an LGBT+ couple obtain?
A. In Maryland, it used to be that a couple could obtain something called a “Limited Divorce.” As of October 1, 2023, that type of divorce was eliminated. Now, all couples seeking a divorce in Maryland will obtain an Absolute Divorce (which is now just called a “divorce”). In D.C., there is only one type of divorce.
Q. Is an LGBT+ spouse eligible to obtain an award of alimony?
A. Yes. In both Maryland and D.C., alimony can be awarded if it is justified in the unique circumstances of the divorce. In theory, both spouses can ask for alimony. In making a decision, Maryland and D.C. divorce court judges will consider about twelve factual matters. Both Maryland and D.C. have similar lists. Factual matters include:
- The ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
- Time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to find suitable employment
- The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage
- Duration of the marriage
- Contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party to the well-being of the family
- Circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties
- Age and physical/mental condition of each party
- The ability of the alimony “payor” to meet his or her own needs while meeting the needs of the party seeking alimony
- Any agreement between the parties
- Financial needs and financial resources of each party
- And more
Q. Will the LGBT+ spouses divide their assets?
A. Divorce courts in Maryland and D.C. are required to “equitably” divide the couple’s marital assets (and debts) upon divorce. “Equitable” does not mean 50/50. In making the decision on equitable division, the divorce courts will consider the same factors listed above for purposes of awarding alimony.
Q. What about child support for minor children of the LGBT+ couple?
A. If there are minor children of the LGBT+ couple, then the Maryland and D.C. divorce courts will make decisions about physical custody, legal custody, visitation, and child support. Generally speaking, custody decisions in both jurisdictions are based on the “best interests” of the child or children in question. That evaluation involves many considerations, such as home life, where the child/children have been living and going to school, etc. Child support obligations are based on the number of children to be supported, the amount of money that parents should be spending to support their children based on the total income of the parents, and the percentage of total income brought to the family by each parent.
Q. What are some unique challenges that an LGBT+ couple might face in seeking a divorce in Maryland or D.C.?
A. The most common unique challenges are child-custody-related. Often, one parent is not biologically related to the child or children, and/or there has been no formal legal adoption. This can cause problems if both parents want to maintain contact with the minor child/children after the divorce. Generally, both Maryland and D.C. define a “parent” as one who is biologically related to the child or children. But both jurisdictions also allow for those who are not biologically related to be considered a “parent” under the de facto parent test. Proving de facto parent status can be difficult and emotionally contentious.
Maryland And D.C. Family Law Attorneys
Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. family law lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl for more information. We have the skills and expertise you need. We have proven experience with family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.