For most of us, the idea of social distancing is difficult. We miss having the close contact of friends and family members, whether that means giving a hug to a grandparent or sharing a meal at a restaurant with a friend. But many married couples have been homebound now for nearly three months, juggling the duties of homeschooling children, working full-time, running laundry and the dishwasher on a seemingly never-ending basis, and they would like nothing more than to have some distance! If you are among that group and find yourself wishing to separate from your spouse in the midst of the pandemic, you may be asking yourself: “What are my options?”
During an initial consultation with a prospective client, I identify the various options for resolving a family law dispute. They range from a “kitchen table” talk, on one end of the spectrum, to having a judge decide contested issues at a court proceeding, on the other end of the spectrum. There are many options in between, but regardless of which path you decide to pursue, it is always best to consult with an attorney from the outset so you have an understanding of the basic tenets of family law in the State of Maryland. I have so many clients who have shared that he or she wished that they had met with me before sitting down with their spouse, whether at the kitchen table or in front of a mediator. It is difficult to engage in mediation or negotiate directly with your spouse unless you have the benefit of legal advice and understand your rights as a parent/step-parent/de facto parent or your rights as to marital property, alimony, child support, legal fees, etc.
The “kitchen table” talk is the most direct method of resolving a dispute, whereby you and your spouse sit down together and try to work out on agreement. Aside from this option being the most direct, it is also the cheapest as the involvement of lawyers is minimized, which is appealing to many, particularly in these uncertain times. Is it reasonable to think you and your spouse can reach a global agreement, on your own? The answer may depend on the complexity of your assets, your relationship and your circumstances. But, in many cases, couples can reach an agreement on at least some issues whether on a long term or temporary basis. For example, here are some questions that can be addressed: Is it time for us to separate or should we enter into marriage counseling? If the former, who is going to move out? How are bills going to be paid during the separation? Can we agree to participate in a form of alternative dispute resolution such as the collaborative process or mediation? Should we consult with a mental health professional to develop a parenting plan for custody and access issues for the children? How are we going to pay for professional fees, such as the mental health professional and the lawyers?
There are many decisions to be made during the separation and divorce process. Unfortunately, for many couples, communication may be broken down to a point where a kitchen table talk will not be productive or even feasible. But it is exceedingly important for couples, particularly those with children, to exhaust their efforts to communicate directly and make decisions together, as it will improve not only the family’s dynamics, but also the long term well-being of the children. If your “kitchen table” talk is successful, your attorney can then prepare an agreement that includes the terms you worked out with your spouse.
Should you be interested in pursuing a “kitchen table” talk or wish to consider other options in furtherance of a separation and divorce, please do not hesitate to reach me at 410.659.1325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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