There has long been a fundamental divide among the experts when considering the impact of divorce on the minor children of the marriage. One school of thought holds that when a couple takes wedding vows that extend as long as they both shall live, they are making a commitment that should not be taken lightly. This school of thought also holds that when a couple remains married despite a breakdown in the marriage, they are creating stability for their children and modeling loyalty that can be a bedrock of their children’s principles throughout their lives.
Another school of thought contends that children are damaged by the fighting and conflict that often accompany the breakdown of a marriage, and that the children in such a family have a better chance of growing up to be emotionally healthy if their parents divorce.
In the State of Maryland, where religious views about the sanctity of marriage have had an impact on the laws of divorce going all the way back to colonial days, hurdles to make divorce more difficult have been erected through what the law terms “grounds for divorce.” That is, in order to get divorced in Maryland, the couple has to demonstrate that the marriage is over by, for example, proving fault on the part of one of the parties, or proving that the parties have lived separately for a specified period of time. Until 1937, a divorce could be granted by a Maryland court only if one party could prove “fault” grounds against the other party (adultery, desertion, etc.). In 1969, when Maryland law first provided that a non-mutual separation could be the grounds for divorce, the required time period for the separation was five years!
Although the required period of separation to establish grounds for divorce has been shortened since that time, many divorcing couples still find the required duration of the separation to create substantial hardship. Now, in 2018, the Maryland legislature has enacted a new statute making it easier for divorcing parties to establish grounds for divorce while still being protective of the minor children of the parties. SB120 provides that divorcing parties with minor children can get divorced with no required period of separation so long as they separate by mutual consent and they have a written settlement agreement that the court determines adequately provides for the best interests of their children, in terms of their “care, custody, access and support.” That is, their agreement must specify how decisions will be made in the best interests of the children, how the children will divide their time between the parents’ homes, and how the children’s financial needs will be met.
The new law, which becomes effective on October 1, 2018, can be viewed as nicely balancing the needs of both parents and children by making it easier for parents to get divorced where they have cooperated to such a degree as to create financial and custodial arrangements that provide for their children’s best interests.