Legal Separation in Maryland and the District of Columbia: A Few Things To Know

A couple having an argument

Instead of seeking a divorce, some couples start off with a legal separation. The difference is that a divorce will fully and completely dissolve the marriage, whereas, by contrast, a legal separation leaves the marriage intact but allows the couple to live separately and apart. Both types of proceedings are legal in the sense that papers are filed with the relevant divorce court, and the divorce court resolves disputes and issues orders that are binding on the couple (and third parties). In both proceedings, the spouses divide their property, seek alimony, ask for child custody, obtain child support, visitation rights, etc. A legal separation can be converted into a divorce at the request of either spouse at any time.

Going forward into 2024, note that Maryland has now abolished legal separation as an option. It was called a “Limited Divorce.” As of October 2023, couples cannot seek a Limited Divorce in Maryland.

However, filing for “Legal Separation” is still an option in the District of Columbia. If you have questions about a legal separation in D.C., contact the Maryland and D.C. divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We are here for you and ready to help. In the remainder of this article, we will provide some information about legal separation in D.C.

Eligibility Requirements

To file for legal separation in D.C., one or both spouses must live in the District of Columbia, a formal petition must be filed, and at least one legal reason must be stated. The two options are:

  • The spouses are currently living apart without cohabitation and are doing so voluntarily — under this reason, the filing can be made immediately when the couple agrees to separate OR
  • The spouses are currently living apart and have been living apart for at least a year, where the separation was not agreed to or voluntary — in other words, one spouse is objecting to living apart.

If a couple separates and lives apart, they often rely on their own financial resources to pay bills and raise any children. There is no method for one spouse to compel the other to assist with paying those bills or helping with the children. However, as noted above, legal separation is an official court proceeding that results in a D.C. divorce court having the legal authority to divide the couple’s marital property between the spouses. The court can also order alimony to be paid and can also make decisions about child custody and child support. Thus, one spouse can obtain some of the benefits of filing for divorce without having to formally dissolve the marriage.

Why get legally separated instead of divorced?

There are many reasons why a couple might seek a legal separation rather than a divorce. A common reason is that the couple thinks there is some hope for reconciliation. Other common reasons include religious and philosophical reasons — “sanctity of marriage,” for example. Sometimes, there are other benefits to remaining legally married, such as access to health and other types of insurance, retention of government benefits, and, sometimes, immigration-related issues.

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.

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