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Sen. Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. (File photo)

Bills to eliminate witness requirement in Md. divorce cases could be combined

ANNAPOLIS – Two similar bills in the General Assembly that would eliminate the requirement that divorcing couples bring corroborating witnesses to court to prove their grounds may be combined after discussions between their sponsors at a hearing Tuesday.

House Bill 274, sponsored by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, and Senate Bill 359, sponsored by Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, both eliminate the corroborating witness requirement. But the Senate bill also permits couples to file a joint complaint to begin mutual consent divorce proceedings and requires the Court of Appeals to establish a joint complaint form.

Zirkin suggested the provisions of the bills could be combined during the hearing Tuesday for the House bill in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which he chairs. Both bills have been passed in their respective chambers.

Dumais, a family law attorney, said there was no reason not to combine the bills.

The intention of requiring a corroborating witness was to prevent couples from perpetuating a fraud on the court, she added.

“It’s stupid,” Dumais said of the requirement. “The reason we have this is ancient history.”

Mutual consent divorce, established by the legislature last year, permits a court to grant a divorce so long as the parties do not share any minor children and resolve issues relating to alimony and distribution of property.

Confusion about the implementation of mutual consent divorce highlighted the issue of requiring a corroborating witness because not all jurisdictions were doing so.

But having witnesses, which are friends and relatives of the parties, get on the stand to corroborate the grounds for the divorce sought exist is unnecessary in any no-fault case, according to Dumais.

“If the other side agrees that they’ve been living separate and apart, why should I have to bring in a witness to corroborate that?” she asked, calling it a “silly hearing.”