Do I Need a Separation Agreement in Maryland?
Why You Need a Separation Agreement?
Are you considering separation but do not want a divorce? There are legal steps you should take to protect yourself and your children. An Annapolis Divorce lawyer can help you realize your options and navigate the legal process.
Unlike the majority of states, Maryland does not have anything called legal separation. This does not, however, mean that Maryland does not address the matter of separation, as couples might seek a limited divorce or reach a separation agreement. It can be confusing, but learning more about what a separation agreement can offer you is an important first step in the divorce process. If you are heading toward divorce, it’s time to consult with an experienced Annapolis separation agreements attorney.
Choosing to Separate
There are different reasons that spouses decide to separate without seeking a divorce. First, if both spouses do not mutually consent to a divorce, the only other option for a no-fault divorce in Maryland is to live apart for 12 months or longer. This means living in separate houses and not having a sexual relationship. If you want a divorce and your spouse might not consent in writing, you might want to begin the separation period as soon as possible.
There are other reasons why spouses might separate but not seek a divorce, including:
- Financial reasons, including benefits, taxes, or insurance coverage
- Religious beliefs against divorce
- Believing you might reconcile or using separation as a “test run” for a divorce
Separations can be reversed at any time, as the spouses can simply revoke their separation agreement in most cases. However, if you obtain an absolute divorce, it is final, and you are no longer married. Sometimes, people want or need to try living apart before they fully end the marriage.
Protecting Your Rights in a Separation
Separation is much more complicated than one spouse moving out. Once you separate, you might have two housing payments, separate living expenses, and more. How will you share your financial resources without one or both spouses misusing marital property? Where will your children live?
If you are preparing to separate, you are well-advised to obtain a separation agreement, which can set the terms of your separation to protect your financial and parental rights. Toward this end, you should work closely with an experienced Annapolis separation agreement attorney.
Separation agreements are legal contracts that can be employed to settle the very issues you will be required to settle upon your divorce – but for the purpose of applying during the time period that you and your spouse live separately. These separation agreements might also be called voluntary separation and property settlement agreements, and they can help maintain your property and assets while you are separated.
The Benefits of Your Separation Agreement
If you are separating, you should be looking for some of the same legal protections of a divorce, and entering into a separation agreement is highly recommended for several reasons.
Set Important Terms
A comprehensive separation agreement can address and resolve all of the matters related to divorce, including all of the following terms (as applicable to your situation):
- The preservation or division of your marital assets and debts
- Your child custody arrangements
- Child support
- Alimony (or spousal support)
With a separation agreement in hand that addresses each of these terms, you can bypass the stressful, time-consuming, and costly litigation process if or when the time for divorce arrives.
Further, separating can put your marital property at risk. If you get divorced, you will be entitled to an equitable distribution of marital property. However, what happens if your spouse sells or wastes property during your separation? A separation agreement can set limitations and restrictions on the use of marital property, so it is preserved if you get divorced. This ensures you receive your fair share.
Retain Decision-Making Power
If you and your separating spouse are able to agree to terms that you are both willing to sign off on at this time, you retain your decision-making power on important matters that directly affect your parental and financial rights. Handing over this power to the judge in a limited divorce case is not something that should ever be taken lightly, and if you can avoid it, you are well-advised to do so. It is worth noting that if your divorcing or separating spouse is not willing to negotiate with you in good faith, coming to mutually acceptable terms may be next to impossible, and your attorney can help you identify the next steps.
Include Matters Not Addressed by the Court
Your separation agreement can include terms that the judge in your case will not specifically address (because they are outside the court’s jurisdiction). For example, if you and your separating spouse wish to include terms that address your shared children’s college costs, you are free to do so.
Stipulate No-Fault Divorce
Separation agreements typically stipulate that any ensuing divorce will be on the no-fault grounds of mutual consent or separation for 12 months. When you have such an agreement on your side, either of you can file for an uncontested divorce that is predicated on these no-fault grounds of separation after the allotted amount of time has passed.
What a Separation Agreement Can’t Do
Separation agreements do not have limitless reach. Consider their limitations:
- Separation agreements are just that – agreements. If either of you refuses to sign, the agreement has no power, and you might be required to request limited divorce terms from the court to protect your property and custody rights.
- Even with a comprehensive separation agreement in place, you and your divorcing spouse remain married (you are not legally separated). You cannot marry anyone else during your separation.
- If your separation agreement is fully executed, it is a valid contract that is enforceable by all the general principles of contract law, but it is not enforceable as a court order (the way a divorce decree is). Once your separation agreement is incorporated into your divorce, it becomes enforceable by court order.
Separation agreements can be more complex than most people imagine, though it is worth it to go through the process to protect your future. If your spouse breaches an agreement, you can take legal action for breach of contract and recoup any losses you experienced. Without an agreement, there is little recourse if your spouse wastes marital property while you are living apart.
Discuss Your Separation Agreement with an Experienced Annapolis Separation Agreements Attorney Today
If you are facing a divorce, a separation agreement could play an important role. Reaching the terms of that agreement – or even knowing which terms should be included – can be challenging. You want the right legal guidance from an Annapolis divorce lawyer who can help you negotiate the terms of your separation agreement or attend mediation if needed. If you cannot reach an agreement on all necessary terms, your lawyer can help you seek a limited divorce or take other steps as appropriate in your situation.
Patrick Crawford at the Law Office of Patrick Crawford is a trusted Annapolis divorce attorney whose practice focuses on helping clients like you obtain separation agreements that protect their parental and financial rights on the journey toward divorce – and beyond. For more information about how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to contact or call us at (410) 216-7905 today.
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