Divorce is a difficult situation for all parties. People think and hope that their marital vows will last forever, but that’s often not the reality. What are the first steps when you or your spouse decide it’s time to exit the marriage? In Maryland, these are the options:
- File for a contested divorce in the Maryland state courts
- File for a non-contested divorce in the Maryland state courts
- Take part in court-ordered mediation
- Take part in private, voluntary mediation
Over the past several decades, divorce mediation has become more of a preferred option for a number of reasons. A seasoned Bethesda divorce mediation attorney can help you if you’re facing an impending divorce.
The Benefits of Mediation
Private, voluntary divorce mediation and court-ordered divorce mediation generally have the same goals: getting the parties to think about, develop and agree to fair and reasonable solutions that will work for them. A second goal often is to avoid the uncertainty and costs of litigation. Specifically, mediation allows the parties to air their grievances openly and without fear of retaliation. In many cases, the parties are able to find creative and flexible solutions (with the help of the mediator) that a court would be unable to order in a court ruling. Note that mediators are bound ethically to be impartial, fair, and without bias.
Frequently, the parties do reach an agreement, which allows them to avoid a trial and save substantial costs that would otherwise be paid to lawyers and the courts.
Whether you’re taking part in court-ordered divorce mediation or voluntary divorce mediation, the benefits are substantial:
- A traditional divorce can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars; a mediated divorce will be substantially less, sometimes in the hundreds of dollars.
- In a traditional divorce, a judge decides how to structure the divorce. In mediation, you and your spouse, with the help of an impartial mediator, will decide the framework and the specifics of the divorce.
- If child support is involved, there is only a limited amount of customization a judge can offer. In mediation, there can be a high level of customization based on family circumstances.
- A traditional divorce can take between one to two years before a judgment is rendered by the court; in mediation, an agreement can be reached as quickly as within several weeks.
- A traditional divorce generally takes place in a public courtroom; a mediation is private and conducted behind closed doors.
And there’s unquestionably more control and less stress in the situation when a divorce case is mediated. You should also be aware that, in any mediation, you are not required to reach an agreement or sign an agreement with which you disagree.
So what’s the difference between court-ordered divorce mediation and voluntary divorce mediation?
Court-Ordered Mediation Is Ordered by a Judge
Circuit courts in Maryland are courts of general jurisdiction and handle major civil cases as well as criminal matters. These courts, which are located in each Maryland county as well as in the City of Baltimore, adjudicate juvenile and family law issues, as well as domestic violence. Each Circuit Court has a court-ordered family mediation program.
Depending on the facts of the case, the Circuit Court may order divorce mediation. While each jurisdiction is different, typically, the court will order mediation in cases of child custody and marital property distribution. In cases involving sexual abuse or domestic violence, the court will not order mediation in order to protect the alleged victim.
Each of Maryland’s Circuit Courts has a list of court-approved mediators. The mediators must undergo court-approved training, observe and co-mediate a number of mediations, submit an application detailing the mediator’s educational and professional experience, and comply with the Maryland Standards for Mediators, which is essentially a code of conduct issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Additionally, court-approved mediators must comply with all rules, regulations, and standards governing Maryland court-appointed mediators, and take continuing education courses annually to stay current on all developments in the area.
Mediators are ethically bound to avoid conflicts of interest and to act impartially, without favoritism, bias or prejudice. Court-approved mediators are also subject to a strict code of confidentiality and are required to act with quality and integrity during the entire process.
The court will assign your mediator or, if all parties to the mediation agree, you may select your own mediator from the court’s list of approved mediators.
Private Mediation Is Voluntary Among the Divorcing Parties
In contrast to court-ordered mediation, private divorce mediation in Maryland is undertaken by a voluntary decision of the parties. Voluntary mediation is not governed by court rules, but rather by the wishes of the parties.
As with court-ordered mediation, mediators are often psychologists, social workers, counselors, lawyers or people of other professions. So long as they abide by the standards of the Court of Appeals for Maryland, they are eligible to serve as mediators. This is different from some other states, which require any mediator, whether involved in court-ordered divorce mediation or voluntary divorce mediation, to be certified.
The parties to the divorce will pay for the private divorce mediation and can decide whether to divide the costs equally or to make some other arrangement.
It’s important to be aware that voluntary mediation can also be very helpful in situations where a couple has long been divorced, but they are facing some new family challenges that weren’t addressed in the settlement agreement. For example, perhaps the agreement did not address college costs, since the children were small at the time of divorce and it was not yet clear whether they would attend college. Or perhaps there was an unanticipated change of circumstances, such as one spouse becoming disabled while the children are still in the house, and the disabled party wants to reopen the issue of alimony or child care payments.
Speak to a Skilled Bethesda Divorce Mediation Attorney Today to Discuss Your Options
Going through a divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances. We can make the process of a divorce or divorce mediation more constructive, with less stress and fewer negative consequences. Brandon Bernstein, a Bethesda divorce mediation attorney, has been recognized as a Rising Star in Maryland and a Maryland Super Lawyer. Contact our offices online or by calling 240-395-1418 if we can be of service to you.