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Editorial Advisory Board: Md. should allow divorce by mutual consent for couples with children

This board is disappointed the Maryland General Assembly once again will not consider whether couples with minor children should be allowed to divorce by “mutual consent.” Last year, the legislature passed a bill, signed by the Gov. Larry Hogan, allowing married parties without minor children to avoid the statutorily required one-year waiting period after the separation to file for divorce. This law now allows those couples going through a divorce to file for divorce as soon as they have a signed marital settlement agreement resolving all issues attendant upon divorce.

But the statute did not extend to couples with minor children, making them still wait out the one-year period to file for divorce even if all disputes between them have been settled.

We had hoped that this year there would have been legislation that would extend this right to parties with minor children. If introduced and passed, all spouses would be able to file for divorce without having to wait 12 months after separation to even file if they have settled all issues arising out of their divorce – that is, custody, child support, alimony, property division, a monetary award, use and possession of the house and personal property and attorneys’ fees. While this seems to make perfect sense, two prior legislative efforts have stalled in the House of Delegates, which feared the procedure did not provide adequate judicial oversight over the best interests of the children.

While caring about the children’s best interest is admirable, not allowing parents with minor children to divorce by mutual consent does not serve that goal.

Divorce by mutual consent incentivizes couples to collaborate and go their separate ways amicably, thus reducing the amount of time that children are seeing their parents at their lowest point; a far too often occurrence. Moreover, eliminating the 12-month waiting period would only work to prevent children from being innocent bystanders to a lengthy proceeding. As many child development experts have noted, young children have little sense of time. So, to them, a year can seem an eternity and is not a concept they can grasp.

Simply put, this proposed procedure seeks efficiency and relatively quick finality (where possible), which unquestionably works in the best interests of children.

But this bill would not have put efficiency over the best interest of the children. Even if such a bill were introduced and passed, parties still would be required to submit their marital settlement agreement to the court for review and approval. The only real change would be that such analysis of the parties’ agreement could take place sooner, rather than later.

We urge Maryland lawmakers, in the 2018 session, to put forward and pass this legislation, making the third time the charm.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

John Bainbridge Jr.

Wesley D. Blakeslee

Arthur F. Fergenson

Caroline Griffin

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

C. William Michaels

Norman Smith

Tracy L. Steedman

H. Mark Stichel

Ferrier R. Stillman

Anwar L. Young

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.