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Differing versions of divorce-evidence bill emerge from General Assembly committees

Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, sponsored cross-filed legislation with the House of Delegates to allow domestic violence orders to be introduced as evidence as divorce proceedings, only to see the bill edited in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. ‘I don’t particularly agree with how it was amended but that’s how we were able to get it out of committee,’ he told delegates Thursday. (File photo)

Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, sponsored cross-filed legislation with the House of Delegates to allow domestic violence orders to be introduced as evidence as divorce proceedings, only to see the bill edited in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. ‘I don’t particularly agree with how it was amended but that’s how we were able to get it out of committee,’ he told delegates Thursday. (File photo)

Legislation to allow domestic violence orders to be introduced as evidence in divorce proceedings has passed both houses of the Maryland General Assembly — but not without being limited by amendments by a Senate committee.

The cross-filed bills repeal a provision of Maryland law which prohibits use of both a protective order and compliance with a protective order as evidence in a divorce proceeding.

House Bill 293 was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, a family law practitioner who called the law “obsolete” given the current state of Maryland’s separation and divorce law.

Dumais told the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 2 that the current law no longer makes sense. Parties no longer extensively litigate the grounds for divorce because they can just prove they have been living separate and apart for the proscribed amount of time.

The provision was initially passed 25 years ago in an effort to prevent petitioners from using protective orders to get a “quick divorce” based on voluntary separation or constructive desertion. In light of recent changes to the divorce statute that did away with voluntary separation as a ground for divorce and added cruelty of treatment, however, the issuance of a protective order doesn’t substantially benefit either party in the divorce but can save the court time, providing evidence of the date of separation.

The House bill passed without an amendment or a dissenting vote, but the identical Senate Bill 274 was altered in the Judicial Proceedings Committee so that instead of a repeal, an exception would be created to the prohibition against the evidence if the respondent appeared before the court at the final protective order hearing and the order was not entered by default or consent.

Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that some senators were concerned about people who will not know the ramifications of consenting to a protective order without a hearing.

“We wanted to make sure that people who actually caused abuse and were found by a court to have caused abuse to fall into this area,” he said.

Ramirez said he supports the bill as he introduced it and the House version, which was not changed.

“I don’t particularly agree with how it was amended but that’s how we were able to get it out of committee,” he said.

The House version is before the Judicial Proceedings Committee with no hearing scheduled.


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