Divorce Law and Mediation Agreement Modifications in Maryland

by Stephanie Reid
Mediation can avoid a lengthy trial.

Mediation can avoid a lengthy trial.

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For some spouses going through divorce in Maryland, mediation is a desirable process useful for avoiding the time and expense of full trials. Through the mediation process, the divorcing parties can often reach agreements regarding issues pertaining to custody, visitation, alimony and property division that satisfy them both. Once they reach an agreement, it becomes part of the divorce decree and is modifiable only when either party can show a significant change in circumstance.

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Maryland Divorce Law

Applicants for a divorce in Maryland must be residents of the state for at least one year before filing. Maryland is one of the few remaining states offering a number of fault-based divorce options including desertion, insanity, adultery, abuse, cruelty, desertion or conviction of certain felonies. Parties seeking a no-fault divorce option must live apart and separate for a 12-month period prior to filing the divorce petition. Parties in Maryland may file for an absolute divorce, which is a full dissolution of the marriage relationship, or a limited divorce, which grants parties a legal separation and rights pertaining to spousal support, child support and custody pending the ultimate resolution of the marital issues.

Mediation Agreements

When Maryland residents file for divorce, the parties can volunteer for mediation or the judge might order it. Parties engaging in court-ordered mediation must attend with an attorney, while parties volunteering for mediation may attend without a legal representative. Mediation is appropriate for most divorce cases except those involving allegations of physical or sexual abuse. In abusive situations, the court will forgo mediation and schedule a hearing as soon as possible. During court-ordered mediation, only issues involving custody and visitation are discussed unless the parties agree to expand the scope of negotiation. During voluntary mediation, parties may reach mutual agreements involving all aspects of the divorce including property division, alimony and issues regarding the children. Once all issues are resolved, an agreement is drafted by the parties and merged with the final divorce decree. In the case of court-ordered mediation, the judge will review the mediation agreement for completeness and statutory compliance prior to its inclusion in the decree.

Standards to Modify Agreement in Maryland

A mediation agreement is considered part of the divorce decree and is an enforceable court order. The ability to modify a mediation agreement may be limited by its terms. If the parties agreed during the mediation process that the final terms are not modifiable, a modification is not possible. If no such language exists, the court will turn to various standards to determine whether modification is possible. The court will only modify a visitation or custody agreement if the proposed changes are in the best interests of the children. This mght involve one parent moving out-of-state, deploying with the military, or if one parent exhibits evidence of unfitness. If the proposed change pertains to alimony or child support, a modification is proper if either of the parties has a significant change in financial circumstances such as a job loss, severe illness or an increase in income. Agreements relating to property division are rarely if ever modifiable.

Modifying a Maryland Mediation Agreement in Another State

If one or both parties to a divorce become residents of a different state, to modify a Maryland mediation agreement, one of the parties must register the Maryland divorce decree and accompanying mediation agreement in the new state. Once the agreement is registered, the party wishing to modify the divorce decree must petition the court for a modification. The court will rely on its state's family law statutes to determine whether a modification is possible; not every provision is necessarily modifiable. For example, most states will not disturb a custody or visitation order unless doing so would be best for the child. A court will not modify an alimony or child support order absent evidence that a party has experienced a significant change in financial circumstances.