You have both agreed to move on with your separate lives. Divorce. You can leave it up to the Talbot County Circuit Court to decide what do with all your property or you might choose the help of a mediator.
In Maryland, with some exceptions, all property obtained during the course of the marriage is generally considered marital property, regardless of who paid for it. Normally, that includes such things as houses, cars, furniture, appliances, stocks, bonds, jewelry, bank accounts, pensions, retirement plans, and IRA’s. If you are splitting up there needs to be a decision as to who gets what, or the equivalent compensation.
There are basically three ways that it can go. The Talbot Circuit Court can make the decision for you or you can decide yourselves through mediation (or something called Collaborative Divorce), or some combination. If the parties are not in agreement on the division of property, then Maryland’s Marital Property Act governs the division of property. Under that act, all marital property is subject to what is called “equitable distribution.” That process is a complex one. The court first determines what property belonging to the couple is marital property. It then determines the value of that property. Finally, the court determines who is entitled to what share of the valued marital property. It takes into account several factors. It can get complicated (see www.peoples-law.org/marital-and-non-marital-property-maryland). This has a down side, of course, as the divorcing couple has no control over the distribution of their property. That is where mediation can come in.
In Maryland, you cannot get divorced without going to the Circuit Court, but that does not mean you have to go to trial. Maryland offers “Mutual Consent Divorce” for couples who can come to an agreement on their own. Mediation can be a very efficient and cost-effective way to make dozens of important decisions about how marital property is divided. In mediation, the divorcing couple are guided through a conversation and decision-making process by a neutral party. The mediator will not take sides. They will not offer legal advice, so in some matters an attorney can be helpful.
Mediation puts the divorcing couple in control. There is no way a judge, who might hear several divorce cases a month, can possibly know your situation, interests, and values like you do. Mediation allows the parties to control how the property is divided, is quicker and less expensive. Because mediation is confidential, it also keeps personal information out of the public record. Mediation is less adversarial than litigation and reduces lingering animosity and distrust. It can help restore a working relationship between the parties. This is especially important if there are children, as many parenting decisions will need to be jointly made following divorce.
As part of the process of mediating the division of marital property, you will need to gather several documents, for example: real estate and vehicle valuation, savings and checking account balances, value of financial assets like stocks and bonds. You will need to determine the value of personal property like the contents of all homes owned, jewelry, art, antiques and other collectibles of significant value. This information will provide the basis for the mediation.
Choosing mediation does not cause you to lose your right to litigate your divorce in front of a judge. You still have the option of going to court. With some exclusions, any information shared during mediation will remain confidential. Mediation can save time and expense and, most importantly, give the parties control over the division of their property. For more information about divorce in Maryland go to https://mdcourts.gov/legalhelp/family/divorce.
Steve Forrer is in Easton. He is formerly Dean and Vice Chancellor of University of Maryland Global Campus. He is currently a mediator for the Maryland District and Circuit Courts. Questions can be submitted at www.doncastermediation.com/contact for Steve to answer in this column. He also accepts private mediations.