The stress of divorce only worsens when the case drags on because you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms. Fights over property, child custody and spousal support can take months or years to resolve. However, Maryland allows — and sometimes requires — divorcing couples to go through mediation to help them reach agreement. For example, the court might require a couple who disputes only one item to attend mediation to try to resolve that issue.
Mediation Vs. Litigation
Mediation is the process in which divorcing couples attempt to resolve their conflicts about the terms of their divorce, including division of property and debt, child custody, child support and spousal support. Mediation is not counseling, though divorce mediators may also be qualified as counselors. Since the process of fully litigating a divorce in Maryland, through a series of legal steps including a court trial, can be time-consuming, emotionally exhausting and expensive, mediation offers a faster, cheaper alternative. The goal is for couples to reach an agreement on the issues in dispute rather than forcing the court to decide these issues for them. In litigation, both spouses hire their own attorneys or represent themselves. A mediator does not represent either side. Instead, he is a neutral party that aims to help the couple reach agreement. Even if the mediator is an attorney, he cannot represent one party or the other after the mediation. That would be a conflict of interest since the mediator is supposed to be neutral, not advocating for either party.
Typically, mediation begins with an introductory session in which the mediator meets with the couple to discuss the mediation process and sign a mediation and fee agreement. If the mediator is a Maryland attorney, the couple can agree to have him create the necessary paperwork to begin the legal divorce process. While the court timelines are moving along, the couple may meet several more times with the mediator, but the number of mediation sessions required depends on the number of issues in dispute and the couple’s willingness to compromise. For example, a couple with children may need more time with the mediator than a couple without children.
Mediation may not be successful if the couple approaches the process with the wrong attitude. Mediating spouses must remember to focus on desired outcomes rather than on the emotional issues that may have caused the divorce. It helps when the divorcing spouses are able to listen to each other’s point of view even when they disagree. Spouses must also fully disclose important information so the mediator can help the couple reach agreement. For example, if the couple fails to disclose they own a vacation home, the mediator cannot help them decide how to split it.
Once the couple has discussed all outstanding issues and has reached agreement on the terms of their divorce, the mediation concludes. The mediator or attorney creates a final written agreement for the spouses to review and sign. If the mediator is not an attorney, the couple can take their agreement to an attorney to be filed with the court. Alternatively, the couple can create and file their own Maryland divorce paperwork, giving the mediated agreement to the court as their requested terms of divorce. Once the agreement is approved by the court as part of the divorce, it has the same weight as any other court order and can be enforced by the court.