ANNAPOLIS – The chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee wants married couples with minor children to have the same path to divorce that childless couples do.
Under a law that took effect Oct. 1, married couples without minor children can divorce via settlement agreement and forgo the state’s one-year separation requirement before terminating a marriage, but other couples cannot.
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County said Thursday that permitting married couples with children to split via agreement remained the unfinished business of the 2015 legislative session.
The Baltimore County Democrat’s divorce by settlement legislation, as introduced last session, did not exclude couples with children. But the House of Delegates added the exclusion — in an effort to ensure children are protected in divorce — after Zirkin’s measure had passed the Senate.
The exclusion became part of the compromise legislation the General Assembly passed and which Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law.
On Thursday, Zirkin urged his committee to support his renewed legislation to permit parents of minor children to divorce via settlement.
“I understand what their sentiment was,” Zirkin said of the House’s action last year.
But, he said a broad settlement agreement to divorce will include what the parents believe is in the best interest of their children.
“This creates more protection for kids, not less,” Zirkin said of his bill.
Laure Ruth, legal director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, agreed.
Exemption ‘doesn’t make sense’
Carving out an exception for parents who have minor children “doesn’t make a lot of sense in the actual world of people getting divorce” by mutual consent, Ruth told the Senate committee.
Family-law attorney P. Lindsay Parvis added that “children do better” when their divorcing parents come to agreement on the care of their youngsters rather than have custody, support and visitation issues mandated by a court.
Divorce by settlement agreement is “civil, respectful” for the children as well as the parents, Parvis said on behalf of the Maryland State Bar Association Section of Family and Juvenile Law.
But Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, R-Harford County, a committee member, echoed the House’s concern from last year that children could be forgotten in the parent’s zeal to divorce.
“What’s the harm by saying, ‘Let’s slow this down’?” Cassilly said. “I don’t care about the couple, only for the kids.”
The current law enables divorcing spouses without minor children to sign an agreement, which resolves all property and financial issues and requires them to be present when a judge grants their absolute divorce. Divorce settlements approved by courts under the law are categorized as divorces “on the grounds of mutual consent.”
Zirkin’s legislation is Senate Bill 358. The measure has not been cross-filed in the House.
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