"Mediation Project Fosters Amicable
Resolutions to Family Law Disputes"
By Sharon E. Goldsmith
Anyone who has visited the Circuit Court of Baltimore City recently is well
aware of the lengthy docket of family law cases and seemingly overwhelming
number of pro se litigants seeking some type of resolution with a family
law dispute. In an attempt to assist needy pro se litigants, educate
people about the potential value of mediation, and alleviate some of the court’s
load, the Legal Aid Bureau and the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland partnered
to create its pilot Pro Bono Mediation Project.
Since 2003, when the project was first initiated and funded through the Maryland
Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO), pro bono family law lawyers
and mediators have assisted parties in mediating custody, child support, divorce,
property distribution, separation agreements, alimony, school placement, visitation
and modification disputes. The pro bono lawyers who participate in the project
clearly enjoy the experience and would like to see more mediation sessions
"The mediation sessions are very worthwhile – everyone leaves happy
and talking to one another," explains Scottie Reid, a Baltimore City practitioner
and volunteer mediator for the Project. "Even if the parties begin the process
being skeptical, the vast majority leave satisfied," she adds. This is not
the case with the matters Reid litigates and she wishes more lawyers would
volunteer to represent the parties in these mediation sessions.
The Project model used engages a pro bono lawyer for each party to the dispute
along with a pro bono mediator, who arrange ahead of time for a convenient
date for the mediation. The Project accepts case referrals from the Pro Se
Assistance Project in the courthouse as well as and Legal Aid’s phone
intake center and walk-in clientele, regardless of whether they have filed
any papers in court. While successful mediations are the primary goal, the
Project also prides itself on exposing people to the concept of alternative
dispute resolution so that they have a more meaningful role in shaping their
future obligations and relationships. The mediation sessions, which last two
to three hours on average, save families substantial amounts of time and money
by avoiding litigation.
A few examples of successful mediations demonstrate the benefit of the pro
|| P vs. F – A grandmother wanted
to obtain visitation rights with her granddaughter after her son’s
death. The mother was fearful that her husband’s family would want
to obtain custody and was hesitant to allow any visits. Through the mediation
process, the grandmother and mother were able to focus on the best interest
of the child and work out a visitation schedule suitable to the child and
all of her family members.
|| O vs. J – A father wanted custody
and visitation with his child. Through mediation, the parties entered into
a fully-executed agreement through which they received counsel, agreed
to joint custody and developed a detailed visitation schedule for both
|| T vs. T – After 11 years of marriage,
a man and his wife wanted a separation agreement to resolve issues of child
support, visitation, custody and alimony. All of the issues were addressed
and resolved through the mediation.
The Pro Bono Mediation Project in Baltimore City is very much in need of
experienced pro bono family law lawyers and mediators to assist with the mediation
sessions. Pro bono lawyers will not be expected to represent any of the parties
beyond the scope of the mediation. Most mediation sessions operate on Thursdays
at 2:00 pm. For more information or to volunteer, contact Sharon E. Goldsmith,
Esq., at the Pro Bono Resource Center at (410) 837-9379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon E. Goldsmith, Esq., is Executive Director
of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.