Q. Do I need a lawyer to be legally separated or divorced in Maryland?
A. No, it is not required.
Many people file "pro se" - representing themselves. For an uncontested divorce in which you have already reached a
mediated agreement, this is not a difficult process.
You might compare it to the complexity of
filing your own taxes. And the Maryland courts have tried to make it very easy for you, by providing extensive and clear explanations and free online access to all the printable forms you will need.
To get an uncontested divorce you must be physically living apart for one year, without having relations with each other, with an intention to split up. Many of our clients want to do as much as they can on their own, both to save money and to maintain control of their decisions. At the appropriate time, you can file your own divorce, including custody, property, and support, by downloading the Court forms from their website and following their instructions. One of you will still need to appear in person with a witness for your hearing even if you have an agreement.
What Might I Need?
If there are tax questions, you'll want to consult an accountant. You can learn a great deal from reading the IRS guidelines and formulating your questions from there.
If there are legal questions, you'll want to consult an attorney; and if there are mental health questions you'll want advice from a licensed social worker or psychologist. Your mediator cannot be an expert in these fields, so it is wise to obtain the information you need and to bring that understanding into your mediation session so that you can make informed choices.
You can create whatever parenting (custody) schedule for your children you agree will work, and you can split (or not split) your assets any manner you both think is fair. These decisions are often quite different than the way a judge or master or two lawyers negotiating would decide your outcome.
Child support is one of the issues that many people find confusing. In Maryland, there are legally determined Maryland Child Support Guidelines that recommend an amount based on several factors. When you do file for divorce, the Court will set child support according to those Guidelines. Your mediator can calculate a close estimate of what that number will be based on forms you will be required to fill out. Your mediator will also ask you to fill out Expense lists, which are also required by the Court. These forms are an important tool used in mediation to help you assess what each person can afford to pay or needs to receive, based on your real life situation. Then you can consider whether you wish to request that the Court permit you to "vary from the Guidelines." Your calculation and reasons can be included in your mediated agreement, or "Memorandum of Understanding."For those who choose to hire an attorney, your attorney can play a valuable adjunct role in mediation, explaining your legal rights regarding property, support, and custody, reviewing your mediated agreement, and assisting you with next steps.