Once the Complaint and Affidavit of Service have been filed in your divorce case in Maryland, the next thing that happens is you receive a notice from the court for a Scheduling Conference. Many clients want to know what happens at the Scheduling Conference.
The Circuit Court of Anne Arundel has published its Case Management Plan on the Internet, and it has the following description of the Scheduling Conference. Note the possibility of an instant drug test, which really does happen, and catches some clients off-guard.
The Scheduling Conference
Scheduling Conferences are held before a judge or master. For simplicity’s sake, subsequent descriptions will refer to a “Master” only. Scheduling Conferences are set at 15-minute intervals, two days per week. Both parties will be required to be present with counsel unless otherwise excused by the Court. The Assignment Office shall reset the first scheduling conference without the necessity of a postponement request, but the Conference shall occur within 30 days of the date of the original Scheduling Conference unless a party objects in writing.
In some instances, the Court may permit participation by telephone where attendance would present a significant hardship. The person participating by telephone will be recorded in open court, along with those participating in the rest of the proceeding.
At the Scheduling Conference, the Master will attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement on all contested matters. If an agreement can be reached, the Master will place the agreement on the record and an Order will be prepared reflecting the agreement. If it is a divorce matter and the necessary witnesses are present, brief testimony may be taken on the grounds for divorce and a report and recommendation issued.
If it is clear that there remain contested issues, the Master will identify those issues and complete a Scheduling Order setting in discovery and filing deadlines and scheduling a Pre-trial Conference.
The Master will also identify and recommend any preliminary orders required in the matter. Preliminary orders include the following:
- order to attend parenting seminar
- order for custody/visitation mediation
- order for property alternative dispute resolution
- other alternative dispute resolution orders
- orders appointing counsel for a minor child or party
- order for custody evaluation unit investigation
- order for psychological evaluation(s)
- order for pendente lite hearing
- order for substance abuse assessment
- order for monitored transfer and/or supervised visitation
- order for referral to Domestic Relations Division
- any other investigations or orders the Master feels may be necessary to expedite the case
In most cases, no merits hearing will be scheduled at this time. Rather, the case will be managed to facilitate settlement prior to or at the time of the Pre-trial Conference.
A Merits Hearing will be scheduled only if and when the Pre-trial Conference fails to resolve all pending issues in the case and all discovery, investigations, reports and joint statements of marital property have been completed.
The purpose of this policy is to schedule a merits hearing for only those cases which are ready for trial. The Court is attempting to facilitate settlement as early on in the case as possible to spare the parties unnecessary expense and delay. By setting a date for the Merits Hearing later on in the case, the Court can more accurately predict the number of cases to be heard, can schedule the appropriate number of judges, and parties and counsel can be assured that their case will proceed to trial on the scheduled day.