Why Expansion of Maryland’s Mutual Consent Ground Has Stalled in the General Assembly

The 2017 legislative session saw only one bill concerning the Mutual Consent ground for divorce. To eliminate the requirement that both parties attend the uncontested divorce hearing. The bill failed.

In the 2016 session, there was a failed attempt to eliminate the requirement of the parties having no minor children in common.

2015 saw the Mutual Consent ground pass into law, but not as originally introduced. The original bill did not contain the requirements of 1) no minor children in common and 2) both parties appearing at the absolute divorce hearing.

So, why does the ground of Mutual Consent remain stubbornly unavailable to parents of minor children?

The issue is not with the Maryland Senate. The original sponsor, Bobby Zirkin, and sponsors of later proposed changes are all Senators, who also serve on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (which hears virtually all Senate and passed House bills affecting family law). All legislation involving the Mutual Consent ground since 2015 originated in and passed the Senate.

The common hurdle to the Mutual Consent ground for divorce is the House Judiciary Committee (“JUD”). After Mutual Consent legislation passed the Senate, only in 2015 did it pass (in amended form as mentioned above) out of JUD and go to a full House vote. After 2016 and 2017 proposed changes passed the Senate, and JUD hearings held, but these bills were never voted on by JUD. Without JUD voting out the bills with a favorable report, the bills died in committee, never seeing the full House for a vote.

I (and usually my clients) understand why the court wants both parties to appear at the absolute divorce hearing – to assure itself that the agreement is not a product of duress or coercion, comporting with the requirement that no pending pleading to set aside the agreement.

But parents do not understand why the ground of Mutual Consent is unavailable to them, or why they have to wait, or why they have to point to fault for an earlier divorce. If JUD’s concerns were that the Mutual Consent ground would open the floodgates of divorce and pave the way to divorce by affidavit (so, on the pleadings without a hearing), this is not so. And, Family Law Article §1-203(c) (requiring oral testimony for a final decree) remains the law with no prospect of change.

Without committee votes in 2016 or 2017, there is no record of the JUD members in opposition. JUD’s 2015 vote sheds some light:http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2015RS/votes_comm/sb0472_jud.pdf, though its membership has changed somewhat.

While the General Assembly’s Committees value the opinions of attorneys, it most values hearing from voters affected by the law. If you would like to see the Mutual Consent ground change, I encourage you to contact your Delegates and Senators and likewise encourage your dissatisfied clients to contact theirs. Be the voice of change.

To find your district’s Delegates and Senators:http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frm1st.aspx…

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