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If a couple has a Divorce Settlement Agreement, then one of the spouses can begin the process to receive a divorce. The spouse that files the Complaint for Divorce is called the Plaintiff, while the spouse who receives the complaint is called the Defendant. The complaint contains an identification, and basic explanation of who the couple is, their children, the grounds (in this case the two year legal separation) and the relief that the plaintiff is requesting.
After the plaintiff files the complaint, he or she must then serve the Defendant spouse either by certified mail or a private server. The packet contains a Summons (an order from the court to answer the complaint) and two Civil-Domestic Information Reports (one blank, and one already completed by the Plaintiff). The plaintiff must then a return receipt, also known as an Affidavit of Service, explaining that the Defendant has been notified.
Once served, the Summons states that if the defendant lives in Maryland, he or she has 30 days to file an Answer. If the defendant lives outside of Maryland, he or she has 60 days to answer, and if the defendant lives outside of the US then he or she has 90 days to file an Answer. With the Answer, the Defendant either admits or denies the allegations that the Plaintiff has laid out with his or her complaint. The Defendant is also allowed to make allegations against the Plaintiff, even if the divorce is uncontested.
If the defendant does not answer in the time allotted by the summons, the Plaintiff must make a "diligent effort" to locate their missing spouse. This would include:
- A service by certified mail at the last known address
- Letters to friends, relatives, neighbors and former employers
- Hiring a Private Investigator
- Searching telephone directories through directory assistance and the internet
- A Maryland Motor Vehicle administration search
- Referencing the Military Service Locator
- Contacting the Child Support Enforcement Agency
After this, the plaintiff may try service by publication. After the Plaintiff has exhausted all of his or her options, he or she may file a request for default, and once that is received, the Plaintiff may schedule an uncontested divorce hearing.
Whether the Defendant is present or not, an uncontested divorce goes to a hearing. Once the couple has filed a Joint Request for an Uncontested Divorce hearing, their case is heard by a family law master and must be attended by the Plaintiff. The defendant is welcome at the hearing, but their presence is not necessary. When the hearing ends it is the family law master's findings and recommendations that become the basis for the Decree of Divorce, which is then signed and mailed to each party within a few weeks.
During this hearing the couple must bring certain forms:
- A Report of Absolute Divorce
- A copy of their Marriage Certificate
- Child Support Guidelines
- Witness Identification Information
- Divorce Settlement Agreement
- Submission to Judgment, which waives the right of appeal
If the parties have reached an agreement and they do not desire to proceed with a lengthy trial they can use Rocket Lawyer's easy interview process to complete a Divorce Settlement Agreement outlining all the details of the the division of property, assets, debts and liabilities, and settling matters of child support, custody and visitation.
Some forms are not available online; you can get from the county clerk in the county in which the divorce will be filed. These include:
- Complaint for Absolute Divorce Form
- Counter Complaint for Absolute Divorce Form
- Civil Domestic Information Report
- Financial Statement
- Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property
If there are children involved in the case, and child support is being requested by one spouse, then he or she will need to complete additional documents.
A Note about Contested Divorces
If a divorce is contested, the court makes both parties attend a Notice of Scheduling Conference before a family law master, who sets dates for various hearings to dictate temporary spousal and child support. From this point, the path of a contested divorce cannot be predicted simply because of the personal nature of every divorce. However, a contested divorce follows the same basic procedure as listed above, except that after the temporary hearing, the case goes to a trial where the judge decides.
Whether your divorce is contested or not, you may wish to Find a Lawyer to help you navigate the divorce proceedings.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.