Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2005

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 PRO BONO Profile:  

"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 occur.

"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 bono initiative.

bullet 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.
bullet 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 parents.
bullet 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 sgoldsmith@probonomd.org.


Sharon E. Goldsmith, Esq., is Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2005

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