The breakup of a marriage is a painful and emotional process. In many ways it is the worst time to make smart decisions affecting your future. Yet it is very important that you do so. The decisions you make now can profoundly affect your life, and the lives of your children, for years.
This post is part of our Free Legal Consumer Guide on Divorce in Maryland. Click here to learn what you need to know about divorce law in Maryland, so you can informed, intelligent decisions before moving forward.
Thankfully, there are ways to reduce the pain and expense of divorce in Maryland, so you can concentrate on making smart decisions.
Unfortunately, too many people fail to take advantage of these options. They let their emotions get the better of them, and later find themselves in a less favorable position when the process is over. They also spend way too much money getting there. Only the attorneys get rich that way.
The bottom line on divorce is this: if you and your spouse cannot agree to resolve the issues between you, it will be done in Court, by a Judge who doesn’t know you. That is unpredictable and expensive. You will have little control over that process. It is always better to retain as much control of your situation as possible. These methods allow you to do that.
It is important to note at the beginning that using these methods does not mean you are giving up and letting your spouse win. On the contrary, this article will tell you how important it is to fight when you need to, and for things that are important.
But you should hope to avoid the need to fight. These methods will allow you to try resolving your divorce case without a fight. They keep control where it belongs – with you.
These options may not be right for every situation. A good attorney will consider these methods in light of your particular situation, and be able to advise you on the proper course.
The first two points we discuss are not even true methods of resolving your case. They involve your mind set and choices you make before you even begin the process. Yet they are the most important aspects of resolving a divorce with less pain and expense.
YOUR MIND SET
The first thing you can do involves your mind set. You must have the right attitude towards your case and your future to make these methods work. There are three major components to building that mind set.
First, you must be ready to think about the long term. No matter how bad things look now, and no painful it is now, you will one day be happy and healthy again. How well off you will be then depends on what you do now.
Be prepared to take the actions now that will put you in the best position when the process is over. Those who think short term are likely to make decisions based on their emotions, instead of their best interests. Think five years ahead, instead of five minutes ahead. This pays off.
Secondly, resolve yourself to be productive and businesslike. We know that is not easy now. The urge to fight back is sometimes overwhelming. But that may not be the best method to reach your goals. Your goal for a future happy life is the most important. Do not allow yourself to forget that when the going gets tough.
Third, you have to know exactly what is important and what is not. You must be willing to fight for what is important to you and your children. You should be willing to negotiate things that are not important in order to keep those things that are.
Make two lists:
- List 1: Make a list of things you consider very important to your future. Discuss that list with your attorney. Always keep your long term goals in mind while navigating the divorce process.
- List 2: Next, make a list of things you would like, but which may not be worth a knock-down, drag-out fight. These items are nice to have, and you do want them, but they are not critical to your future. You may consider negotiating these items if that becomes necessary to protect the things on the first list.
And you will be forced to deal with your spouse in the future. You will at least need a businesslike relationship for future graduations, parties, weddings, and the like. How manageable that relationship will be depends largely on actions you and your spouse take now.
YOUR CHOICE OF ATTORNEY
Many people make the mistake of thinking they need a cutthroat divorce lawyer. That is almost always the wrong choice. Any competent, experienced divorce attorney will tell you that.
Your lawyer will dramatically affect the chances of the case resolving favorably. Some lawyers make a lot of money by never working things out, and always letting the Judge decide. This is an expensive choice – both financially and emotionally. More fighting = more attorney’s fees. That is why certain attorneys encourage it.
But you must have a lawyer who will fight for you when it is necessary. If your spouse is going to be difficult, then Court may be the only option. You need an attorney who will try to use some of the following methods, but will fight if your situation calls for it. You can then feel confident that by attempting the methods described here, your attorney has your best interests (not his or her own financial interests) at heart.
In fact, being prepared for trial is actually the best negotiating tactic. The other side must know you can, and will, fight and win at Court before they will be properly motivated to negotiate in good faith.
The best divorce attorneys are tough but reasonable. They will keep your goals in mind during negotiations, and be willing to go to Court if an agreement cannot be reached. But they will also be reasonable and will encourage you to be reasonable.
Judges know the reputations of various attorneys, and treat them (and you) accordingly. If you want to be treated reasonably by the Judge, you should retain an attorney who is known to be reasonable.
Also keep in mind how important it is to hire an attorney who regularly practices in the local Courts. Your attorney should know what the local Judge is likely to do in your situation, so you can tell if you will get a better deal in Court than what your spouse is offering.
The cleanest and easiest way to get through a divorce is to make it “uncontested”. This means the parties have resolved all of the issues between them. Formal Court proceedings are still necessary, but Court now becomes quick, easy, and less expensive. The hard part, of course, is resolving the issues first. To do that, you and your spouse can enter into a Separation Agreement.
A Separation Agreement is simply a contract between you and your spouse that covers all the legal issues raised by your divorce. If you resolve your divorce issues through a Separation Agreement, the Court will adopt the Separation Agreement into its final divorce order, giving it the force of any other Court Order. It will have exactly the same effect as a Court Order given to a couple who spend three days in trial having a knock-down, drag-out fight. You can enforce it the same way if it is violated later.
The big difference is this: The Court ruling is straight from the Judge. You have no control over it. A Separation Agreement keeps all of the decision making power where it should be – with you.
An attorney is vital if you are going to enter into a Separation Agreement. This is a contract like any other, and it must have certain items in it to be valid and enforceable. You must be sure to cover all of the important issues.
Your attorney will know which issues should be covered, and will be sure to address them in the agreement. See all the details on Separation Agreements earlier in this guide.
FOUR WAY MEETING
Sometimes it can be productive for the parties to meet, along with their attorneys, to nail down the details of a Separation Agreement. This usually occurs when the parties have reached the broad outlines of a deal, but need to work out the details. Everyone shows up ready to do business, with the protection of, and instant access to, their attorney.
As long as everyone stays reasonable, these meetings can be very productive. This is another reason your choice of attorney is important. Attorneys who can work together can make these meetings go very well for you. If your attorney does not work well with others, this can be a waste of time – or worse, it can sink a deal and lead to an unnecessary courtroom battle.
An increasingly popular method of settling domestic situations is mediation. Courts love mediation, and often order it in divorce and child custody cases. Mediation involves one or more meetings between the parties and a trained mediator. This is not always a lawyer, but is someone who has received extensive training in mediating disputes among couples. Even if you think there is no hope of reaching an agreement with your spouse, mediation can sometimes be productive.
The mediator is trained to put the parties in a frame of mind that makes agreement possible. Sometimes the most stubborn spouse can be made to understand the value of a mediated agreement.
A mediator will play “middle man” between you and your spouse in discussing terms of a possible agreement. If successful, an agreement will be reduced to writing and your attorney or your mediator will draw it up just like a Separation Agreement. You will have to show up for the sessions with the mediator, and you will usually have to pay ½ of the mediator’s fee. This is much less expensive than a Court trial.
Although you do not need an attorney to go through mediation, you will find one valuable before and after the process. You will always need to know what the law says about a certain issue, and what the Court is likely to do in your situation. An attorney will tell you if the agreement is fair, compared to what you would likely win in Court. An attorney will still be needed to review the agreement.
We wish you the best of luck in navigating the often hazardous waters of your own divorce case. We hope you find this advice helpful and encouraging. Divorce is never pain free. But it certainly can be a lot less painful than many couples (and their attorneys) make it.