As the 2023 Legislative Session enters its final days, the MSBA brings you updates on legislation we are tracking on behalf of the profession:
Family Law – Grounds for Divorce
HB14/SB36: MSBA’s Family and Juvenile Law Section has led a significant effort with sponsors, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary and Sen. Chris West, to bring Maryland in line with 39 other states which allow for divorces based on irreconcilable differences. The bill would allow Marylanders to obtain an absolute divorce more expeditiously and with less financial repercussions rather than on specific fault-based grounds, through elimination of limited divorce and revisions of the grounds for absolute divorce. The bill would add the two grounds of a six-month separation or irreconcilable differences, and repeal the grounds of adultery, desertion, certain criminal conviction and sentence, twelve-month separation, insanity, cruelty, or excessively vicious conduct. Parties would also be permitted to file for an absolute divorce based on the existing ground of mutual consent if the parties have submitted a written agreement resolving all issues.
The bill codifies case law to clarify the concept that parties shall be deemed to have lived separate and apart even if they reside under the same roof, thereby allowing parties to obtain a divorce even if they continue to reside in the same house. The bill passed the House (133-0) and an amended version passed the Senate (33-10). MSBA supports this effort to streamline the process to initiate divorce proceedings in Maryland.
Estates and Trusts – Trust Decanting Act
HB687/SB446 (Maryland Trust Decanting Act): MSBA’s Estates and Trusts Section, with sponsors Del. Jon Cardin and Sen. Chris West, introduced legislation that would allow a fiduciary to exercise discretionary power to modify the terms of an irrevocable trust, to ensure that the terms of the trust remain aligned with the grantor’s intentions when circumstances have changed. A trustee could “decant” one trust into another trust under certain circumstances.
With full support from both the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the bill passed the House (134-0) and an amended bill passed the Senate (45-0). MSBA strongly supports this Act to bring Maryland in line with 13 other states that have adopted decanting statutes, to provide more certainty and flexibility for trustees to further a settlor’s objectives, and to allow more trusts to continue to be administered in the state.
Remote Access to Court Proceedings
HB133/SB43: The bills require public virtual access to court proceedings, unless closed, confidential, or restricted by law or by a judge in certain circumstances. Courtroom transparency advocates have focused on this legislation over the past few years during the pandemic, when more proceedings were held virtually with public access. The bill’s goals of transparency and access to hearings are important to the MSBA and our practitioners. SB43 received an unfavorable report from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week and the House Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on HB133, indicating unlikely passage. Concerns include implementation costs around the state, infringement on judicial authority, and the potential impact on court proceedings and witnesses.
Criminal and Family Law – Repeal of Spousal Defense
HB4/SB129: The bill would repeal the “spousal defense” which prohibits prosecution of a spouse for charges of rape and sexual offenses. Prior versions have failed for several years, as amendments were added that weakened its protections. This year, identical bills passed unanimously in the House (136-0) and the Senate (45-0) with no amendments. MSBA’s Family and Juvenile Law Section notes that this law “will provide the highest level of support and relief for victims of sexual assault, including those married to their perpetrator.”
Child Victims Act of 2023
HB1/SB686 (Child Victims Act of 2023): The ability of child sexual abuse survivors finding relief and access to the civil justice system has been a priority issue for sponsor and abuse survivor Del. C.T. Wilson for several years. The proposed bill eliminates the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases, allowing survivors to file cases no matter when the abuse occurred, and caps liability for non-economic damages. Amended, identical bills passed the Senate (42-5) and the House (132-2) with strong support. Governor Moore has indicated he will sign the legislation. The constitutionality of the bill may then be considered by the Maryland Supreme Court.
The MSBA monitors hundreds of bills each session and advocates on behalf of the profession. The ability to make a difference in Annapolis is just one of the many reasons we need all attorneys to belong to the MSBA to ensure we remain a strong and vibrant association. Thank you for your support. Visit us at msba.org/advocacy.