"Family mediation" means the mediation of disputes in actions for divorce, annulment, establishment of paternity, child custody or visitation, or child or spousal support.
Mediation programs can be very beneficial to people who are divorcing as well as to those who have long been divorced but who find themselves in a dispute in their post-divorce relationship. Not only can it save money but it promotes positive dispute resolution rather than adversarial procedures. That being so, it is well worth investigating by any couple facing divorce, a child custody fight, a visitation dispute or other interpersonal conflict.
Mediation is a process that may help you resolve your case so you can have an uncontested divorce. Mediation is particularly useful in situations involving children, since it is in the interests of the children that their parents "get along" even if they will no longer live together as husband and wife. In the State of Maryland, all cases that involve contested custody or visitation matters are referred to mandatory mediation, provided the parties are represented by an attorney and there is no allegation of domestic abuse.
Mediation attempts to change disputes from "win-lose" to "win-win." Mediation is a non-adversarial process of helping people come to agreement on issues like parenting arrangements, support of children and spouses and division of real and personal property. Mediation occurs when a neutral third-party, who has training in dispute resolution, assists you and your spouse and helps you resolve the issues that are causing conflict and to make cooperative, informed decisions.
Mediation can be used to resolve the entire range of family disputes either before a divorce takes place in order to consummate a marital settlement agreement, as well as after the divorce to resolve continuing disputes that might arise under a marital settlement agreement.
Under Maryland Rule S73A, court-ordered mediation, the issues are restricted to custody and visitation unless both parties agree to include other issues.
A history of abuse or allegations of abuse preclude mediation and the court will not refer for mandatory mediation of child custody or visitation any situation where abuse has been evident.
Mediation should not be used when there has been evidence of domestic violence or abuse or there is a great difference in power between the parties. For the mediation process to work there must be some degree of trust between the parties.
There are professional mediators who earn their living by providing divorcing couples mediation services on all issues. These professionals can be invaluable in helping couples resolve property and support issues but also will assist with custody and visitation disputes. Divorce attorneys and family counselors can often refer families to professional family law mediators. Psychologists, family counselors and social workers may also offer such services
Under Maryland Rule S73A, the circuit courts have developed mediation programs to assist parties in resolving custody or visitation issues. Each party must have an attorney and a complaint must have been filed. Only custody and/or visitation are appropriate for court-referred mediation. Maryland Rule S73A requires an order for mediation.
Court-ordered mediation begins when a judge orders it and a mediator is appointed by the court. It is not likely that a circuit court will mandate on-line mediation; therefore it is anticipated that the mediations to be conducted by this service will be private mediations.
What is divorce
Who are mediators?
How the Mediator
As one mediator described the process, "Mediation is neither therapy, nor the law - it's an educational process." Usually, the couple attends an orientation session in which the mediator thoroughly explains the process of mediation such as what the couple should focus on, how they should speak to each other (keep raised voices down), and so on. The session may last for two hours.
After the initial session, the couple attends three to eight one-and-a-half- to two-hour sessions in which the mediator will guide them to make their own decisions on how they wish to end their marriage. They analyze their budgets and needs, divide marital property, review their children's needs, and reorganize their family and life-style to fit its new structure. Mediators place special emphasis on providing an acceptable form of continuity where children are concerned and may even include children in the sessions if warranted.
The process allows the parties to analyze their situations and to understand each other's needs as well as those of the children. It may alleviate the anger and bitterness that the couples initially may feel toward each other. It also makes the couple realize that although they may not be husband and wife, they are still parents. It encourages their cooperation with each other in determining their relationship with their children.
Once the couple decides on what they wish to do, the mediator draws up a memorandum of understanding that specifies what issues have been resolved. This statement is then given to the couple's respective attorneys, who will draw up a formal separation agreement based on the statement. Please note that many mediators are not lawyers and, therefore, may not consider all that should be necessary for a good separation agreement.
The cost of mediation varies from $100 to as much as $250 a session. (Attorneys who are mediators usually charge more than non-attorneys). It usually is requested that both parties contribute to the costs, eliminating any possible feelings that the one who pays may be getting preferred treatment. Sessions also may be held with co-mediators, a lawyer and a social worker, for example.
Does Mediation Work?
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Both mediation and arbitration involve a neutral third party who is not a judge. In mediation, the neutral party -- the mediator -- helps the spouses to negotiate an agreement and has no power to make decisions. In arbitration, the neutral third party -- the arbitrator -- listens to the facts and then decides the case.(back to top)
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