Answer: At the Gardner Law Firm, P.C., our first goal is to assist you in reaching the best outcome in your case. This is usually by negotiating an amicable settlement agreement, which will avoid the acrimony and expense of a trial. It will also work to reduce the tensions of your separation and divorce, as well as the uncertainty inherent in the judicial process. Anytime you allow a Judge to resolve your dispute, you have given control over to a third party, and you may or may not be satisfied with the outcome. On the other hand, if you resolve your case by agreement, you know exactly how it will end, and you can begin planning for life after divorce.
Once a settlement is reached a separation and property settlement agreement is prepared, which becomes a binding agreement on all parties to the dispute. In Maryland, you must remain separated for one year before you can obtain a final divorce on the grounds of separation, at which time your agreement is introduced and becomes part of the final divorce decree. Until then, the agreement will govern your rights and obligations, and if it is violated legal action may be brought to enforce compliance.
There are five primary means of resolving the issues that arise in your divorce. First is by negotiating directly with your spouse. While this is the quickest route, you may not be aware of all the items you need to consider in resolving your case, clauses that can be included in your agreement, and you may not know everything about your spouse's assets or liabilities. In addition, there are certain terms that need to be included in a separation agreement in order for it to be binding and enforceable. It is therefore important that you consult an attorney before you finalize any agreement.
The second means of reaching an agreement is by having your attorneys negotiate on your behalf. At the Gardner Law Firm, P.C., we have negotiated hundreds of such agreements, and are very familiar with the issues that need to be addressed, the various means of addressing them in an agreement, the trade offs that are often considered, language and clauses that will work, potential visitation and custody scenarios, means of verifying your spouse's assets and income, and the many issues that arise in negotiating an agreement. We are also very familiar with the likely outcome should your case proceed to trial. This is important because we believe our clients should understand how the case is likely to turn out if the matter proceeds to trial before they finalize a separation agreement.
The third means of reaching an agreement is by using a neutral mediator to help negotiate an agreement with your spouse. This often takes a number of sessions, at which the mediator helps you understand the issues and works with you and your spouse to resolve them amicably. An attorney is important in this process because the mediator is a neutral, and cannot give you independent legal advice. Your attorney can advise you as to whether you have considered all of the appropriate issues, and whether the settlement is in your best interest. Your attorney can also draft the agreement, or comment on the proposed language after it has been drafted by either the mediator or your spouse's attorney.
The fourth means of reaching an agreement is by the collaborative process. In this scenario each spouse retains a collaboratively trained attorney for the limited purpose of assisting that party in reaching an agreement with the other spouse or partner. Once an agreement is reached, the attorneys will draft the agreement and represent you in an uncontested divorce. The attorneys agree not to represent their clients in any litigation that may ensue, and the parties agree to provide complete disclosure to the other side. The attorneys representation is limited to assisting their clients in reaching an agreement. Each side may also retain a mental health professional, called a divorce coach, and a financial expert may be retained to assist in resolving the financial issues. This process usually involves a series of meetings at which the needs of each spouse are addressed, and the goal is to minimize the tensions inherent in the litigation process and retain a working relationship after the divorce is over. It is important that each side understands and is committed to this process before it begins. David C. Gardner has been collaboratively trained, and can represent you in this process.
The fifth means of resolving your divorce is through litigation. Our firm has handled hundreds of contested divorces, and is here to assist you should negotiation fail and the case proceed to court. However, even when a case proceeds to court on a contested basis, most cases ultimately settle because of the cost and uncertainty of the litigation process. Indeed, the courts in Maryland require that you attend two mediation sessions with a court appointed mediator to resolve any custody and visitation issues before your custody issues will be heard at trial. In addition, the court requires that you attend two sessions of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before the financial issues in your case are heard in court. These sessions are usually conducted by a retired Circuit Court Judge. Therefore, even when we are litigating your case, we are also preparing for mediation and usually engage in continuing discussions with your spouse's attorney toward negotiating a settlement in your case. We have experienced many cases where the case settles "on the courthouse steps", and you can settle some or all of your issues at any time prior to a judge issuing a decision in your case.
If you are contemplating a separation, or if you have already separated and are contemplating a divorce, please contact our office to discuss how we can assist you in resolving your case without the need for litigation. We will keep your consultation private, and will work with you to make the process as understandable, cost effective, and painless as possible.