“Ugly” divorce actions are legendary in the courthouse and by this euphemism, we mean legal actions that involve months, and sometimes years, of stress, anxiety and frustration as the parties and their lawyers fill the court with arguments and testimony. These are cases in which the adversaries spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and litigation costs, only to have one, or both, of them completely dissatisfied with a Judge’s decision.

The grounds for divorce that are commonly filed include physical abuse, adultery, desertion/abandonment and emotional abuse. One can readily see how litigating such issues could lead to nasty and protracted litigation. However, when you mix in disputes over financial support and child custody the ugliness becomes nearly inevitable.

Fortunately, times have changed and such ugliness is no longer inevitable. Maryland law has evolved in recognition of the fact that such divorces benefit no one and the Montgomery County Circuit Court has established procedures that promote the expeditious and equitable treatment of its citizens when faced with the crisis of divorce.

For decades “no fault” divorce in Maryland required that the parties be voluntarily separated for one year before suit could be filed and for two years if they were living separate and apart for two years, without the separation being based on a mutual agreement. More significantly, being separated meant that you could not live under the same roof, for even one day or you would be forced to restart the waiting period. This condition invariably created great problems in marriages in which one party simply could not afford to move out or in which neither party wanted to be considered as “deserting” the marriage, another ground for divorce.

Under Maryland’s recent Mutual Consent Divorce law, at least in actions in which no children are involved and if the parties are able to create a comprehensive written Settlement Agreement, they need only be “apart”, even if under the same roof, for only six months. As such, at least in this limited sense, much of the ugliness can be avoided.

However, a Mutual Consent Divorce presupposes that all matters have been decided by the parties. Unfortunately, some issues are difficult to resolve and the prime “hot button” issues invariably relate to money (Alimony and Child Support) but the most contentious battles usually involve child custody.

Your attorney should demonstrate to you how the Maryland Child Support Guidelines apply to your situation, help you identify all of your marital and non-marital assets, determine their value and help you to divide them fairly. More importantly, your attorney will help craft a plan for future parenting decisions.

The best way to avoid the ugly divorce and a possible disastrous outcome is to share in the decision-making process through mediation. Montgomery County enjoys the services of a large number of family law specialists who are capable of conducting mediation or who can represent a parent in such a proceeding.

Divorce mediation is a voluntary process in which the mediator helps you and your spouse identify all the issues that need to be covered in a Separation Agreement, including such matters as the cost to live separately, alimony, child support and custody.

Divorce mediation can eliminate the painful “win-lose” atmosphere that is part of an adversarial divorce lawsuit. The process is a mutual search for a reasonable resolution.

Divorce mediation can be conducted by a mediator with only you and your spouse present or may be conducted with each of you having an attorney to assist with the process. The mediator can prepare an Agreement for the couple to review each with their own counsel before it is signed. If for any reason no agreement is reached, you reserve you right to proceed to court.

Once a mediated agreement is achieved then you can move forward to a Mutual Consent Divorce or some other No Fault action. The divorce will never be “pretty” but much of the ugliness can be avoided.

In fact, our clients often agree that mediation is the best way to deal with such difficult times.

Paul Lewis is a partner in the law firm of Gimmel, Weiman, Ersek, Blomberg & Lewis, P.A. He was an Assistant State’s Attorney for Montgomery County for five years. He has been in private practice in Gaithersburg since 1984. His principal practice areas are Family Law, Personal Injury and Criminal/Traffic defense and General Litigation. The law firm also offers legal services in Estate Planning, Probate and Business Law and Litigation.