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Change in divorce grounds considered

Couples in Maryland seeking to end their marriages must live apart and cannot have sexual intimacy with each other for a year before filing to terminate their marriage under current law. A bill is being considered in the House of Delegates that, if passed, would allow couples to file for divorce if they live in the same home without engaging in sexual intimacy for one year.

This bill is intended to help couples who do not want to remain married but cannot afford to live apart. A similar measure passed the House in the 2019 legislative session but was not approved by the Senate.

The proposal expands on a state court decision from the early 2000s. A husband was granted legal separation because of desertion after he lived in the basement of his family’s home and away from his wife for a few years.

Legislative members questioned how a judge could reasonably find that couples did not engage in sexual relations, also known as separation of affections in Maryland. This is currently a legal issue in Maryland divorces and rulings on that issue are made by the judge.

The bill’s elimination of separation as grounds for divorce was criticized as taking away one of the most frequently cited grounds, according to the Maryland Bar Association. Other critics said that a spouse would also be able to unjustifiably seek divorce because of their spouse’s inability to engage in sex because of a medical condition or accident. But supporters argue this can happen under current law.

There are other recognized grounds for divorce in Maryland. These include adultery, abuse, desertion, among others. Desertion is when a spouse leaves the other for an indefinite time period with no intention of reconciling. A spouse’s criminal conviction can also be grounds if the sentence is at least three years of imprisonment.