Courts plan divorce case mediations Howard, city efforts set for next spring

October 10, 1990|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

In yesterday's editions of The Sun, an article in the Maryland section about the mediation of divorce cases in Howard County and Baltimore quoted the administrative judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court and misidentified the judge as Hilary D. Caplan. In fact, he is Joseph H. H. Kaplan.

The Sun regrets the error.

The courts in Howard County and Baltimore will try to mediate a large number of divorce cases next spring in an experiment that could change how domestic law is practiced in Maryland, judges in the two jurisdictions said yesterday.

During a three-day stint in March, seven lawyers who specialize in divorce cases in Howard County will receive mediation training and try to settle 63 divorce and custody disputes without having the cases heard by a Circuit Court judge.


Baltimore Circuit Court plans a similar experiment with 50 divorce disputes to see whether mediation can help ease a backlog of domestic cases, said Roger C. Wolf, a professor at the University of Maryland law school and co-chairman of the Maryland Bar Association committee overseeing the project.

This is not the first time the state's court systems have tried to shift from confrontation to mediation. Last year mediation was used to resolve civil cases in five jurisdictions.

The divorce project will determine "if we can resolve cases in a less confrontational way with mediation being the first threshold and the courts serving as a last resort," Mr. Wolf said.

Judge Hilary D. Caplan, Baltimore's administrative judge, said the use of mediation in divorce cases "is a good thing to try. We have had settlement days on the general civil docket, and it worked very well. Domestic cases are a little bit different, and we want to see how they make out."

Judge Caplan said he believes a mediated domestic case is "better than a tried domestic case because the parties agree to terms and are much more willing to follow [the final agreement] than if it is imposed upon them."

Baltimore's Circuit Court already has experience with such mediation. It is one of seven court systems in the state where judges refer custody and visitation issues in divorce cases to mediators. The other court systems are those of Harford, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

But Howard County will be the first jurisdiction to try to settle entire divorce and custody disputes, said Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge James C. Cawood Jr., the other co-chairman of the bar association's project.

"We are most interested to see what the effect is," Judge Cawood said. "If it works well, I see more court systems in the state adopting the approach."

Howard County Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. said the goal will be to settle a large majority of the domestic cases.

"Hopefully, emotions between the parties will not run as high when the cases are mediated," Judge Sybert said. "In adversarial domestic cases, the ones who suffer the most are the children involved."

Professor Wolf, who will train the lawyers in mediation techniques in Howard County and the city, said the mediators will "try to get the parties to solve the problems themselves."

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