Does a “legal separation” exist in Maryland?

by Nov 16, 2020

Well, as the old law school answer goes, it depends.  In most cases, the answer is no, but Maryland has a somewhat unique creature borne of statute called a “Limited Divorce.”  That does not mean there are two different types or ways of divorce you can obtain in Maryland.  In fact, it is a misnomer.  A Limited Divorce is not a divorce at all; instead, it is the court’s recognition of you and your spouse’s separation on a few specific grounds. The limited divorce is limited in that it cannot grant the parties a divorce as requested. But what a filing for limited divorce effectively does is – as a colleague of mine says – it opens the courthouse doors.

There are four different grounds for a limited divorce: (1) cruelty of treatment of the person seeking the divorce or that party’s child(ren); (2) excessively vicious conduct against the person seeking the divorce or that party’s child(ren); (3) desertion; or (4) separation, if the parties are living separate and apart without cohabitation.  Such a separation must be a physical one, in ALL aspects. By the way, this information can be found in the law, which is more accessible nowadays than you think.  Check out the Maryland Code, Family Law Article, Section 7-102 or go to the Maryland Peoples Law Library online (

As you would find out in our free consultation, a limited divorce can be helpful in certain situations, but, unless you eventually file an amendment to that pleading, it cannot get you divorced in the end.  People utilize the limited divorce option to get to other legal remedies generally not available otherwise.  For instance, once filed, a spouse can request alimony (or spousal support), and he or she can get a hearing on that issue.  While not the best way to pursue the alimony claim (as a post-divorce remedy), it is possible, and Maryland Courts have said that it is acceptable to do so.  Another reason could be to obtain subpoena power to aid in the discovery process.

For the most part, a limited divorce comes into play when the person, who is seeking a divorce from the Court, cannot meet the grounds required for the absolute divorce but wishes to bring their case before the court as soon as possible (for, as noted above, spousal support issues, etc.).  In other words, when you cannot prove you should be granted a divorce on the statutory no-fault or fault-based grounds (no-fault includes either a divorce by mutual consent or one-year separation versus fault-based including allegations such as adultery, abandonment, desertion, incarceration, cruelty of treatment, etc.), then the limited divorce option is viable to meet some more pressing needs.

Several Maryland Court cases present not only a definition of, but also a good history of, the Limited Divorce and Absolute Divorce in this state.  See Lasko v. Lasko, 245 Md.App. 70, 226 A.3d 315 (Md. App. 2020) or Walter v. Walter, 956 A.2d 255, 181 Md. App. 273 (Md. App. 2008).

In the meantime, if you have questions or wish to set up an appointment, give me a call!