Complete Guide to the Divorce Mediation Process in Maryland
Divorce can be very stressful because of the emotional, legal, and practical consequences. If you are considering going through the divorce process, one of the first options you should consider is divorce mediation. Maryland divorce mediation is a confidential and time-limited process that allows couples that are separating to meet with a mediator (neutral third party) that helps them figure out the division of property, spousal support, child support, and parenting responsibilities. Mediation may be court-ordered or voluntarily chosen by the spouses.
Divorce mediation allows couples to have an amicable split because it is much less stressful, costly and confrontational than divorce litigation. Mediation aims to reach an agreement over disputed issues while allowing them control over the terms of the agreement through compromises negotiated by the mediator. Litigation hands over decision-making to a judge who independently makes decisions about disputed issues. The biggest advantages of mediation are that it can be used during the divorce process or post-divorce disputes, is low cost and promotes positive dispute resolution over the adversarial litigation procedure.
Read on to learn more about the stages of the divorce mediation process in Maryland.
This stage of the divorce mediation process involves the assignment of a mediator by the court (for court-ordered mediation) or the selection of a mediator by the divorcing parties (for voluntary mediation). The mediator may or may not be a trained lawyer. You can opt to go into mediation with or without a lawyer to represent your interests.
After all the parties have met, the mediator will describe the process and address any questions and concerns the parties may have. The mediator’s objective is to settle the disputes. They are neutral and will not advise any of the parties. It is not the mediator’s job to ensure you get the best deal possible. Each party uses the introduction stage to present their challenge and proposed solutions. The divorcing parties use this step to understand what they agree and disagree about. This helps to set a starting point and guide the mediation’s agenda.
Information Gathering Stage
Much like divorce litigation, mediation requires parties to lay out and prove all the facts they assert. The mediator identifies points of disagreement and inspects financial records (including retirement funds, checking accounts, saving bonds), real estate/asset records, and any records relating to children. Parties are obliged to disclose all necessary information to show cooperation and good faith negotiation.
Mediation cannot begin without both parties turning in all the necessary records to settle the dispute. Parties are free to hire third parties such as lawyers or private investigators to help them gather the information necessary to make or prove their case. Ensure that you attach evidence for all the facts you assert as you would in a court case.
After isolating the issues which need to be settled, the next step is for the mediator to open the negotiations for a fair settlement. The only way to reach a final solution is by getting concessions and compromises from both parties. Your mediator will help you explore all the options and narrow them down to those that work for both parties.
Mediation is a continuous conversation that sometimes reaches temporary solutions that the parties can test for effectiveness before settling on a permanent agreement. If you are uncomfortable with any of the terms proposed during the negotiation process, you should consult a divorce lawyer about the mediation agreement proposed.
Your mediator will shape your needs and interests and help reach an agreement addressing each party’s most important interests. When parties reach an agreement, the mediator may or may not draft an agreement that outlines all the accepted terms. The mediator will direct you away from the many interests pertaining to divorce and focus on the core disagreements. They aim to reach terms that both parties can live with and maintain in the long run.
If your mediator drafts an agreement for you to sign, you must consult a qualified divorce lawyer before signing it.
Signing and Filing Stage
After working out all the details and reaching a mutual agreement, the divorcing parties will be required to sign a tentative draft of the agreement. The draft agreement is completed and signed after an inspection by a qualified divorce lawyer. The agreement is filed in court as part of an uncontested divorce, provided no disagreements or issues with the draft.
Professional divorce mediation is the best option for couples considering separation because it is faster, cheaper, friendlier, and more predictable than litigation.