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“My husband and I have not been intimate for over a year,” Louise, an unhappily married woman tells Joe, a Maryland divorce lawyer, “and I want a divorce.”

“OK, any other woman in his life?” inquires Joe.

“No.”

“Hmmm, any domestic violence or threats?”

“No.”

“Then you’re going to have to move out of the house for a year before you can file a divorce complaint,” says Joe trying to push the box of tissues across his desk toward Louise unobtrusively.

“But we can’t afford that,” cries Louise reaching for the tissues, “There must be another way.”

Neighboring jurisdictions, DC and Virginia permit parties to be separated while living in the same house, but not Maryland.  In Maryland, spouses are required to live separate and apart under different roofs for one year if the both agree, and two years if they don’t.  This waiting period must occur before they can even file for divorce.  And the divorce might take a year or longer after that.  These are the no fault grounds.  Adultery and cruelty have no waiting period.

The purpose of this waiting period is to favor marriage over divorce and make sure the parties really, really want to be divorced and not married.  After all, sometimes people change their minds.  But the recession has forced many couples to live together in misery because they cannot afford to separate.

So Montgomery County Delegate Luiz Simmons, an attorney, will support legislation this year to add a new grounds for divorce in Maryland, according to this morning’s Frederick News Post.  If this law passes, couples who go a year without sex would be able to file for divorce.

Grounds for an absolute divorce in Maryland can be a confusing and complicated concept.  You have to have grounds for divorce in order to file a complaint.  Grounds are reasons for the divorce.  Some grounds have a waiting period.  Others do not.  Some require you to live in separate places.  Others can occur while you are still living together.  Maryland has the traditional fault grounds.  It also has the more modern no-fault grounds.

No-Fault Grounds

The no-fault grounds are one year voluntary separation or two years involuntary separation.  Both of the no-fault grounds have a waiting period before you can file for divorce and you have to be physically separated continuously for that period.  That means you live in different places, or under separate roofs, as the court says.  You cannot meet the no-fault ground requirements if you both live in the same house.

Fault Grounds

The fault grounds are adultery, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct, desertion, insanity and imprisonment.  Three of the fault grounds have no waiting period before filing a complaint.  Those are adultery, cruelty and excessively vicious conduct.  You can live in the same house and file for divorce based on adultery, cruelty, excessively vicious conduct and even desertion.

Anuradha Das said her husband, Vincent Das, made her stay up all night in order to listen to him, isolated her from her friends and family, hitting, pinching and pulling her hair, and taunted her about what she would do when a protective order expired.   Anuradha filed for divorce in Maryland based on cruelty.  There was a trial and the divorce was granted.

Vincent appealed saying his wife had not proven cruelty as grounds for her divorce.  He claimed his conduct never endangered her life, person, or health, or would have otherwise caused her to feel apprehension of bodily suffering.

He cited older cases in Maryland which say that marital neglect, rudeness of manner, and the use of profane and abusive language do not constitute cruelty.  A divorce cannot be granted merely because the parties have lived together unhappily as a result of unruly tempers and marital wranglings, sallies of passion, harshness or rudeness.

However, there were several incidents of domestic violence over the history of the marriage including a one year protective order against Vincent.   Consequently, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that Vincent’s conduct far exceeded mere sallies of passion, harshness or rudeness.  It threatened Anuradha’s physical and emotional well-being.  The Court upheld the judgment of divorce on grounds of cruelty.  Das v. Das, 133 Md. App.1, 754 A.2d 441 (2000).