Demystifying the Divorce Process in Maryland: Part 2
For many, divorce or custody cases are the first experience working with an attorney or dealing with the Court. At the Law Office of Laurie M. Wasserman, we walk our clients through the legal process one step at a time, so they know what to expect.
In this blog series, we will discuss the typical court process in a divorce or custody case in Maryland, in the hopes of demystifying it. In Part 1, we covered how a divorce or custody case gets started and begins the legal process. In Part 2, we will discuss what happens leading up to the trial. If you have any questions, please reach out. Our team is here to help guide and advocate for you.
Step 5: Services, Mediation, and Parenting Classes
In divorce and custody cases that involve children, the Court will most likely order the parties to attend mediation. Mediation is a confidential process in which a neutral third party—the mediator—facilitates a discussion in the hopes that an agreement can be reached. If an agreement is reached on any issue, then it will be reduced to writing to be reviewed by each party’s lawyers. If everyone approves of the terms of the agreement, it can be signed and entered as a court order.
During mediation, you have control over the process and the potential outcomes. Depending on the issues, mediation can take place over several sessions. The people in mediation decide the topics and the order of the discussions. But, if you cannot reach an agreement in mediation, then you just resume the regular court process. Anything said in mediation is confidential and cannot be used as evidence at trial. The mediator also cannot be called to testify as a witness for either side regarding what was—and was not—said during the mediation.
In Maryland, all custody cases (except for those involving abuse) are required to attend mediation. In addition to child access, parties also choose to attend mediation to resolve issues of financial support and division of property. The ultimate goal of mediation is for parties to take control over the outcome of their case and avoid lengthy and expensive litigation. And, for those facing a one-year separation to file for divorce, a mediated agreement would allow them to file in court much sooner under “mutual consent” grounds.
In addition to mediation, parents are also usually ordered to attend co-parenting classes. But do not be confused by the name—these classes are not designed to teach how to parent. Parenting classes are designed to help you learn how to co-parent with someone you are separated from. Most of the classes are offered online and you get a certificate of attendance upon completion. Once you have completed your parenting classes, you should provide your certificate to your lawyer.
Step 6: The Discovery
If you reach an agreement in mediation, it is not binding until it is put into an Order and signed by parties. If an agreement is not reached in mediation, then the trial process resumes.
Discovery is the process by which each side gathers evidence for their case. Each side can ask the other for certain documents to help build their case including bank statements, emails, text messages, pictures, etc. Each side can also ask that certain questions are answered in writing and under oath—a promise that the statements are true in a court of law.
Subpoenas can also be issued to gather more evidence. A subpoena is when a person is ordered to answer a series of questions under oath, known as a deposition. Witnesses and experts can be subpoenaed to provide evidence to support a case.
The discovery process is often long and complicated. There are very specific rules that must be followed every step of the way. Your attorney will guide you through the discovery process to ensure every step is followed and works towards the best possible outcome of your case.
Step 7: The Pendente Lite Hearing
Pendente Lite means “pending the litigation”. A Pendente Lite hearing applies to court orders that take effect while the divorce or custody case is pending. For example, the Court may hold a hearing for temporary relief if there are disputes over timely financial circumstances, ongoing bills, custody issues, etc.
In a Pendente Lite hearing, the Court will hear testimony from witnesses and evidence will be presented. Each side will argue for what they want in terms of temporary relief. The Court can issue orders on temporary custody, child support, alimony, use and possession of the home and contents, and legal fees. The hearings are meant to provide temporary relief for specific issues and are not meant to address all of the issues in a divorce. The hearings usually last from a few hours to one day.
In the next part of this blog series, Demystifying the Divorce Process in Maryland, we will explain how a divorce is finalized through a settlement conference or trial.
Do you have questions about the divorce or custody process in Maryland? Contact Laurie Wasserman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-842-1070. The legal team at the Law Office of Laurie M. Wasserman is here to help guide and advocate for you.
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