Family Law Case Management Plan
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Statement of Purpose
1. General Information
2. Scheduling Conferences
3. Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs
4. Pre-Trial Conferences
5. Merits Hearings
7. Pendente Lite Relief
8. Emergency Relief
9. Chambers and Motions Practice
From the commencement of litigation to its resolution, whether by trial or settlement, any elapsed time other than reasonably required for pleadings, discovery, and Court events, is unacceptable and should be eliminated. To enable just and efficient resolution of cases, the Court, not the lawyers or litigants, should control the pace of litigation. A strong judicial commitment is essential to reducing delay and once achieved, maintaining a current docket. Standard 250, ABA Standards Relating to Court Delay Reduction
It is the purpose of this family law differentiated case management plan (hereinafter DCM Plan) to provide an effective case management system that will ensure:
- equal treatment of all litigants by the Court
- timely disposition consistent with the circumstances of the individual case
- enhancement of the quality of the litigation process
- public confidence in the Court as an institution
The goal of the DCM Plan is to ensure that 90% of all family law cases be concluded by disposition, dismissal or judgment within 12 months of filing, and that 98% of the family law cases be concluded by disposition, dismissal or judgment within 24 months of filing.
1.1 Family Law Cases
The DCM Plan outlines policies and procedures for the management of family law cases in the Circuit Court. This includes the following types of cases:
- private paternity
- child support (excluding Office of Child Support Enforcement [hereinafter OCSE] filings)
- cases arising from marital settlement agreements
1.1.1 Other Family Law Matters
- Other family law matters, including contested adoptions, guardianships, terminations of parental rights, etc., may be set for a scheduling conference or for other procedures as described in this DCM Plan if those procedures are appropriate to facilitate an efficient resolution of a case, however they will not be managed by the Family Law Division.
- Protective Order Cases originally before the Circuit Court are scheduled in accordance with Md. Ann. Code, Fam. Law '4-501, et seq. Appeals from rulings of the District Court in Protective Order matters will be scheduled in accordance with Md. Ann. Code, Fam. Law '4-507.
- Appeals of Peace Orders from the District Court will be scheduled in accordance with Md. Ann. Code, Cts.& Jud. Proc. '3-1506.
- Juvenile matters follow the procedures dictated by the Maryland Code and Maryland Rules. In delinquency matters, adjudicatory hearings are scheduled by the State=s Attorney=s Office. Other juvenile matters are scheduled by the Court in coordination with the various agencies involved.
1.2 Judicial Assignments to the Family Law Division
The policies and procedures outlined in this DCM Plan are implemented by the following personnel:
- Administrative Judge. The Administrative Judge supervises all aspects of family law case management, is ultimately responsible for overseeing the implementation of the DCM Plan and reviews and rules on all Motions for Special Assignment, Motions for Waiver of Prepayment of Costs and Motions for Waiver of Family Services Fees. The Administrative Judge will designate a Family Law DCM Judge (hereinafter DCM Judge).
- Family Law DCM Judge. The DCM Judge or designee monitors the implementation of the DCM Plan. The DCM Judge or designee reviews all contested family law matters and also rules on all Motions for Pendente Lite Relief, Motions for Emergency Relief, Motions for Family Services, UIFSA and UCCJEA matters, Motions for Expedited Relief and Requests for Hearings. Motions for Continuances and requests to appear at a hearing telephonically also shall be the responsibility of the DCM Judge or designee.
- Other Judges. The Administrative Judge shall designate certain Judges and Masters to serve in the Family Law Division. All Judges and Masters, whether or not they are designated to serve in the Family Law Division, may be called upon to hear family law matters in order to ensure that these matters are heard expeditiously.
- Masters. Scheduling conferences, pendente lite hearings, initial child support hearings, modification hearings, contempt matters stemming from a family law case, pre-trial settlement conferences, motions hearings, emergency hearings and any uncontested matters may be set before a Master. Proceedings before a Master are subject to the provisions set forth in the Maryland Rules governing the use of Masters (Md. Rule 2-541).
- Master/Examiners. Master/Examiners are appointed by the Court pursuant to Md. Rule 2-542. Cases referred to Master/Examiners include issues in uncontested proceedings not triable of right before a jury and proceedings held in aid of execution of judgment.
- Domestic Relations Masters. Masters who are hired under the OCSE's Federal Reimbursement Agreement will hear child support, paternity, and contempt proceedings in which an OCSE attorney has entered an appearance. Cases that will clearly result in payment through OCSE may be heard by the other domestic relations Masters as well, including any ancillary (non-child support) issues.
1.3 Assignment Office
The Assignment Office schedules all proceedings before a Judge or Master of the Circuit Court, except for juvenile and OCSE dockets. These include: scheduling conferences, pre-trial settlement conferences, pendente lite hearings, emergency hearings, motions hearings and merits hearings.
1.4 Domestic Case Information Report (DCIR)
Pursuant to Md. Rule 2-111, a Domestic Case Information Report (DCIR) shall be filed with all original pleadings in the case, and a copy shall be served on the defendant or respondent. The DCIR shall be filed in all cases subject to the DCM Plan. When any new or additional relief is sought subsequent to the filing of the original complaint or petition, a DCIR shall be filed with the pleading or paper seeking the relief.
If the DCIR is not filed with the complaint, one of two procedures will be followed by the Office of the Clerk:
- If the complaint is received across the counter from an attorney or party, the clerk shall provide a blank DCIR form to be completed immediately.
- If the complaint is received by mail or across the counter from someone other than an attorney or party, the clerk shall mail a blank DCIR to the attorney or party with the receipt for the complaint. This mailing shall include a clear explanation that the DCIR must be immediately filed.
1.4.1 Responsive Pleadings
A DCIR should be filed with any/all responsive pleadings. If the DCIR is not filed by the opposing attorney or party, agreement with the moving party's DCIR shall be presumed.
1.5 Order for Scheduling Conference
Upon the filing of a responsive pleading, the case file is forwarded to the family law case management office. Within 30 days from receipt of the case file, the family law case management office will set the case for a scheduling conference. Counsel and parties will be notified by mail. Other than in cases in which good cause is found, the actual scheduling conference will ordinarily be at least 30 days from the Order setting the scheduling conference.
An Order for scheduling conference shall be generated by the office of family law case management and may be accompanied by other preliminary Orders as more fully set forth in section 2 below.
Pursuant to the Order for scheduling conference, counsel/parties are required to propound interrogatories and requests for production of documents within 30 days of the Order and are encouraged to:
- confer before the scheduling conference as to discovery & possible settlement,
- stipulate as to schedule and other arrangements for discovery, and
- initiate discovery promptly so as to complete it, including filing of any discovery motions, prior to the date of the pre trial settlement conference.
Cases involving only modification of child support may proceed directly to a modification of support hearing without the necessity of a scheduling conference unless otherwise requested and/or ordered by the DCM Judge or designee; however, a scheduling Order will still be issued. Requests for modification of alimony will be set for a scheduling conference.
Cases involving a complaint for custody with accompanying consents will proceed directly to a 15 minute consent to custody hearing before a Judge or Master without the necessity of a scheduling conference.
2. The Scheduling Conference
Scheduling conferences are held before a Judge or Master (for simplicity=s sake, subsequent descriptions will refer to a AMaster@ only). Both parties, and counsel, if retained, will be required to be present unless otherwise excused by the Court.
At the scheduling conference, the Master will attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement on any 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, recommendation, and proposed judgment of absolute divorce issued.
If it is clear that contested issues remain, the Master will identify those issues and complete a scheduling Order (see section 2.3 below) setting discovery and filing deadlines and scheduling a pre-trial settlement conference.
The Master also will identify and recommend any preliminary Orders required in the matter. Requests for these preliminary Orders shall be made at the scheduling conference. Preliminary Orders include the following:
- Order to attend educational seminar(s)
- Order for custody/visitation mediation
- Order for property mediation
- 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 referral to OCSE (only in exceptional circumstances)
- Any other investigations or Orders the Master feels may be necessary to expedite the case
In most cases, a merits hearing will not be scheduled at this time. Rather, the case will be managed to facilitate settlement prior to, or at the time of, the pre-trial settlement conference.
2.1 Discovery Deadlines
During the scheduling conference, the Master will set discovery deadlines and schedule subsequent event dates. Pursuant to the Order for scheduling conference, counsel/parties are required to propound interrogatories and requests for production of documents within 30 days of the Order and are encouraged to:
- confer before the scheduling conference as to discovery & possible settlement,
- stipulate as to schedule and other arrangements for discovery, and
- initiate discovery promptly so as to complete it, including filing of any discovery motions, prior to the date of the pre-trial settlement conference.
Discovery schedules shall not exceed three months in standard family law cases, except in unusual circumstances or by agreement approved by the Court. The dates set shall be firm dates and shall not be modified except by Order of the DCM Judge or designee.
In order to make the pre-trial settlement conference a meaningful proceeding, all motions, including discovery motions, must be filed and resolved prior to the pre-trial settlement conference. The Master or Judge at the scheduling conference shall establish deadlines for the filing of motions including discovery motions.
2.1.2 Evidence Requiring Advance Notice
The scheduling Order shall also provide a deadline for the notice required by any party who intends to use video depositions per Md. Rule 2-416, computer generated evidence per Md. Rule 2-504.3 or summary exhibits per Md. Rule 5-1006.
2.1.3 Bifurcated Custody Proceedings
The Court will not automatically bifurcate custody cases. If, however, it would be appropriate and would facilitate settlement of the case, the attorneys may request or the Master may recommend, bifurcating custody issues. In such an instance, the Master may issue a second scheduling Order setting separate discovery deadlines, a pre-trial settlement conference and merits hearing on the custody issues only, to be concluded before the merits hearing on the divorce or any other issues.
2.2 The Facilitator Program
The Court maintains a panel of volunteer attorneys who serve as facilitators on the day of the scheduling conference. Facilitators meet with the parties and/or counsel at the request of the Master conducting the scheduling conference for the purpose of assisting the parties in reaching settlement of any or all issues. There is no charge to the parties. Facilitators have no on-going involvement in the case. The Court or counsel will prepare any consent Orders resulting from a facilitated settlement. Pursuant to Title 17 of the Maryland Rules, facilitators shall not be entitled to any fee for services. To serve as a facilitator, individuals must be approved by the Administrative Judge and meet the criteria set forth in Md. Rule 17-206.
2.3 The Scheduling Order
A uniform scheduling Order shall be used for most family law cases.
2.4 Educational Seminar
In divorce actions or other actions between two parties where custody or visitation is at issue, the Court will prepare an Order for the parties to attend an educational seminar as required by Md. Rule 9-204. Parties will be ordered to attend the educational seminar prior to any scheduled mediation in their case.
In the event that the Master does not require the parties to attend the educational seminar, the Master will indicate on the scheduling Order the reason(s).
2.4 Other Preliminary Orders
At the Scheduling Conference, the Master will also discuss with counsel or the parties whether other preliminary orders might be appropriate in the case. Counsel are requested to file any such preliminary motions, e.g., motions for child counsel, for a custody evaluation, for psychological evaluations, etc., prior to the Scheduling Conference so that these issues can be discussed intelligently by both sides. However, the Master may prepare an appropriate Order even in the absence of such a request.If one party requests a preliminary order and the other party objects, the Master will hear brief argument on the issue and prepare an appropriate Order.
2.4.1 Parenting Seminars
In divorce actions or other actions between two parents where custody or visitation is at issue, the Master will prepare an Order for the parties to attend a 6-hour Parenting Seminar. (See Appendix I.) This Seminar consists of two (2) three-hour sessions and is taught by a custody evaluator from the Custody Evaluation Unit. Parties will be ordered to attend and complete the Parenting Seminar prior to any scheduled mediation in the case.In the event that the Master does not require the parties to attend the Parenting Seminar, the Master will indicate on the Scheduling Order the reason(s).
2.5 Alternative Dispute Resolution Programs
After determining what issues are contested in each case, the Master will determine whether participation in one of the alternative dispute resolution programs should be ordered and prepare the appropriate Order.
2.5.1 Custody/Visitation Mediation
Parties involved in custody and visitation matters where there are no allegations of physical or sexual abuse of a party or child will be ordered to attend mediation. The Court may vacate the Order for custody and visitation mediation if a fully executed comprehensive agreement or consent Order is filed by the parties or counsel and approved by the Court within 15 days after the date of the scheduling conference.
Every family law case will be screened for allegations of physical or sexual abuse of a party or child along with other domestic violence issues. If a file review suggests that there is a history of allegations of physical or sexual abuse of a party or child or other domestic violence issues which might preclude the parties from participating in mediation, the parties will meet with a the Master at their scheduling conference to determine the appropriateness of a referral to mediation. Upon the request of either party or counsel, or based solely upon a recommendation by the Master, the Court will provide the parties with immediate access to a private domestic violence screening conducted by the Court=s domestic violence assessor. In the event that the parties request that they be permitted to participate in custody/visitation mediation or consent to participate despite a history of allegations of physical or sexual abuse of a party or child, the Master will indicate on the Order for custody and visitation mediation that allegations of abuse exist and that despite the allegations, the parties have nevertheless agreed to participate in mediation.
Parties will set up their own appointments with the custody/visitation mediator, and will be ordered to complete the mediation by a date prior to their pre-trial settlement conference.
In the event that the Master does not require the parties to participate in custody/visitation mediation, the Master will indicate on the scheduling Order the reason(s).
2.5.2 Property Mediation
Cases involving contested property issues may be referred to a Court appointed mediator upon agreement of the parties. The cost of property mediation will be divided between the parties. The cost for property mediation may not be waived by the Court. Parties will set up their own appointments with the property mediator, and will be ordered to complete the mediation by a date prior to their pre-trial settlement conference.
2.6 Appointment of Counsel for Minor Child(ren)
The Master may prepare an Order to appoint counsel for a minor child(ren) at the time of the scheduling conference. Parties shall be prepared to advise the Court as to whether this will be necessary, why it is necessary and who will be responsible for payment. The cost of any such appointment of counsel for minor child(ren) will ultimately be allocated by the Court between the parties.
2.7 Appointment of Counsel for Parents (Minors)
The scheduling conference will provide the Master an opportunity to determine whether a self represented litigant in a family law case, who is a minor parent, is in need of the assistance of counsel. The Court may appoint counsel for parents who are minors, if unrepresented. The Court may allocate payment among the parties.
2.8 Custody Unit Evaluations
The Master may prepare an Order for investigation by the custody evaluation unit, if appropriate, at the time of the scheduling conference. Orders for custody evaluations may be limited in scope.
2.9 Substance Abuse Testing/Screening/Evaluations
The Master may prepare an Order for substance abuse testing/screening/evaluation of either the parties or a minor child at the time of the scheduling conference.
Parties requiring substance abuse testing/screening/evaluation will be referred to the Court=s substance abuse assessor to provide an immediate urine/breath sample and/or schedule an in-depth evaluation.
Minor children requiring substance abuse testing/screening/evaluation will be referred to the Anne Arundel County Health Department to provide these services.
2.10 Psychological Evaluations
At the scheduling conference, the Master may prepare an Order for a psychological evaluation to be conducted of either the parties and/or a minor child in the case. The Master will have available a list of appropriate psychologists who can conduct such evaluations, or the Master may prepare an Order for the examination to be done by a professional requested by one or both of the parties. Parties shall be prepared to advise the Court as to whether a psychological evaluation will be necessary, why it is necessary and who will be responsible for payment. The cost of any such evaluation will ultimately be allocated by the Court between the parties.
2.11 Paternity Testing
If the issue of paternity is raised in either the pleadings or at the time of the scheduling conference, the Master may prepare an Order directing the parties to participate in paternity testing. The Master shall have available a list of paternity testing facilities. The name of the facility shall be included in the Order for paternity testing. The Master will direct the parties to return for an additional conference/hearing. This conference/hearing shall be set at a date sufficiently late to ensure that the paternity testing results will be available.
2.12 Pendente Lite Hearing
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement at the time of the scheduling conference on pendente lite issues, the Court may schedule a pendente lite hearing. The scheduling of a pendente lite hearing may be included as a part of the scheduling Order and a separate Order need not be issued.
2.13 Other Orders
At the time of the scheduling conference, the Master may prepare any other preliminary Orders necessary to expedite the case or to facilitate settlement.
3.1 Custody/Visitation Mediation Program
If ordered to attend custody/visitation mediation, participation in the program requires:
- Attendance at two separate two hour sessions with a mediator appointed by the Court.
- Payment of a $400.00 fee (per party) at the time of the initial session with the mediator.
The actual dates of mediation will not be selected at the scheduling conference. The parties will schedule their own appointments with the custody/visitation mediator and will be ordered to complete mediation of all custody/visitation issues by a date prior to their pre-trial settlement conference. Absent an Order of Court, counsel will not attend custody/visitation mediation.
Failure to attend either mediation session may result in sanctions by the Court.
Fees for Court certified mediators are set by the Administrative Judge. Mediators may not accept a fee in excess of the set fee except as provided in section 3.1.1 below. Violation of this rule is cause for removal as a mediator from the Court=s panel of certified mediators.
If a party is receiving free legal representation under the auspices of a qualified program such as the YWCA Legal Services, Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., or the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service, the fee for custody/visitation mediation is waived as to that party only and the mediator shall deliver the service for that party at no charge.
The fee for mediation may be waived if a motion for waiver of family services fees, supporting affidavit and related documents are filed within 15 days of the Order for mediation. Information and forms for the waiver are provided by the family law division. When a motion for waiver of family services fees and supporting affidavit is received, it will be reviewed by the family law administrator and forwarded to the Administrative Judge for consideration. If the litigant is eligible for a fee waiver, the Court may enter an amended Order for custody/visitation mediation referring the parties to the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center where mediation services will be provided at no charge. Alternatively, the Court may request that a Court certified mediator provide mediation services at no charge to a litigant.
3.1.1 Scope of Mediation
The parties are required to attend both sessions with the Court appointed mediator. The mediator will attempt to facilitate an agreement between the parties. The parties also may voluntarily continue with further mediation, at their mutual election, at the rate of $200.00 per hour, shared between the parties.
The parties may extend the scope of mediation beyond the issues of custody and visitation only if they agree to do so in writing. The mediator shall submit a consent form to that effect with the signatures of both parties at the time a completed written agreement is forwarded to the Court.
3.1.2 Mediated Agreements
When the parties reach an agreement on some or all issues, the mediator prepares a written draft of the agreement and submits it to the parties and their attorneys. If the agreement is approved as written or modified, the mediator submits it to the Court for approval and entry as an Order. Parenting plans or agreements are mailed to the office of case management which will prepare an appropriate Order. If an agreement is reached, mediators shall forward the final, signed copy of the parenting plan to the office of family law case management at the conclusion of the10 business day waiting period.
The mediation disposition form shall be submitted within 10 business days of the final mediation session.
In the event that any party fails to timely schedule mediation, or cooperate with the mediator, the mediator shall promptly file a disposition form with the Court advising of same.
3.1.3 Mediator Certification
Court certified mediators must meet the criteria approved by the Administrative Judge in accordance with Md. Rule 17-205, et seq. and Md. Rule 9-205. In addition to the requirements of Md. Rules 17-205 and 9-205, Court certified mediators shall have office space available within Anne Arundel County in which to conduct mediation sessions and shall be members of the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence (MPME).
A list of Court certified custody/visitation mediators is maintained by the family law administrator.
3.1.4 Failure to Attend Mediation
If a party fails to attend any session of custody/visitation mediation, the Court will issue a show cause Order requiring that party to attend a prompt show cause hearing. At the conclusion of the show cause hearing, the Court may impose monetary sanctions, dismissal of the action or any other appropriate sanction.
All show cause hearings for failure to attend mediation shall be set before the DCM Judge or designee.
3.2 Property Mediation Program
Parties whose cases involve contested property issues may be ordered to participate in the property mediation program. Participation in the program requires:
- Attendance at two separate two hour sessions (unless otherwise ordered by the Court) with a mediator skilled in the resolution of property issues.
- Payment of a $400.00 fee (per party) at the time of the first session with the mediator.
The actual dates of mediation will not be selected at the scheduling conference. The parties and/or their attorneys will schedule appointments with the property mediator and will be ordered to complete mediation of all property issues by a date prior to their pre-trial settlement conference. Both the parties and their attorneys may attend property mediation sessions.
Parties will be required to complete and submit a copy of their joint marital and non-marital property statement (see Md. Rule 9-207) to the property mediator before the mediation session, as well as copies of their individual financial statements and corroborating financial information.
When the parties reach an agreement on some or all issues, counsel will prepare a written draft of the agreement for signature. In the alternative, the agreement may be incorporated into a consent Order resolving all outstanding issues in the case and presented to the Court at or before
the date of the pre-trial settlement conference.
The mediator will submit a property mediation disposition form to the office of family law case management within 10 business days of the final mediation session.
In the event that any party fails to timely schedule mediation, or cooperate with the mediator, the mediator shall promptly file a disposition form with the Court advising of same.
Fees for property mediators are set by the Administrative Judge. Mediators may not accept a fee in excess of the set fee. Violation of this rule is cause for removal as a mediator from the Court=s panel of certified mediators.
If a party is receiving free legal representation under the auspices of a qualified program such as the YWCA Legal Services, Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., or the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, the fee for property mediation is waived as to that party only, and the mediator shall deliver the service for that party at no charge.
3.2.1 Property Mediator Qualifications
Court certified mediators participating in the property mediation program must meet the criteria that have been established by the Administrative Judge in accordance with Md. Rule 17-205, et seq. In addition to the requirements of Md. Rule 17-205, et seq., Court certified mediators shall have office space available within Anne Arundel County in which to conduct mediation sessions and shall be members of the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence (MPME).
A list of Court certified property mediators is maintained by the family law administrator.
A pre-trial settlement conference will be scheduled for all matters at the time of the initial scheduling conference. All parties and counsel (who are going to litigate the case) are required to attend the pre-trial settlement conference. Failure to attend may result in the imposition of sanctions by the Court. All discovery must be completed well in advance of the pre-trial settlement conference. Pursuant to Md. Rule 2-432(d), a motion for an Order compelling discovery or for sanctions shall be filed promptly and in compliance with the scheduling Order. Objections to insufficient discovery responses may be deemed waived, unless an appropriate discovery motion has been filed promptly, unless the insufficient discovery response could not reasonably have been recognized or unless waiver is inappropriate in a minor child=s best interests.
A merits hearing will be scheduled only if and when the pre-trial settlement conference fails to resolve all pending issues in the case, and all discovery, investigations, reports, individual financial statements, and a joint statement of marital property and non-marital property have been filed. 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, only after all the above has been completed, 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.
In compliance with the scheduling Order and the Maryland Rules, at or before the pre-trial settlement conference the parties MUST:
- exchange witness lists and lists of exhibits that may be introduced at trial
- complete and submit a joint marital and non-marital property statement pursuant to Md. Rule 9-207, if required by the Rule
- complete a financial statement pursuant to Md. Rule 9-203 if not yet filed
- exchange income information and documents verifying all income
- prepare a child support guidelines worksheet, if child support is at issue
4.1 Pre-trial Conference Procedure
The Court will meet with counsel and/or the parties in an attempt to facilitate a settlement in the case. All parties and their counsel shall be prepared to discuss all aspects of their case in anticipation of a possible settlement.
4.1.1 Agreement Reached
If an agreement is reached on some or all issues before the Court, that agreement shall be placed on the record. Counsel shall prepare an Order reflecting the agreement placed on the record and shall submit it to the Court within 14 days. If the parties are self-represented, the Court will prepare an Order reflecting the agreement placed on the record.
If the matter is before the Court for a limited or absolute divorce, where testimony is required, the Court may take divorce testimony, provided the appropriate witness or witnesses are present.
4.1.2 No Agreement - Ready for Trial
If the parties fail to reach an agreement on any or all of the issues, and the case is ready for trial, a pre-trial Order will be completed by the Court and a merits hearing will be scheduled.
4.1.3 No Agreement - Not Ready for Trial
If the parties fail to reach an agreement on any or all issues, and the matter is not ready for trial, the Court will prepare a pre-trial Order establishing the next pre-trial settlement conference date and identifying what shall be completed prior to the next pre-trial settlement conference. If a pre-trial settlement conference must be continued due to the failure of a party or counsel to comply with discovery or other scheduling Order requirements, the Court may issue sanctions pursuant to Md. Rule 2-508(e). The Court also may schedule a separate hearing to assess appropriate sanctions.
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Counsel and parties must be ready to proceed at the time the case is called.
If a Judge hears substantive issues in a pendente lite hearing, that Judge may also hear the merits of the case, as well as any modifications thereof, if available.
All motions for continuance must be made pursuant to Md. Rule 2-311, Md. Rule 2-508 and Md. Rule 1-204. These requests will be considered, in accordance with the provisions of this DCM Plan, by the DCM Judge or designee.
Family law cases proceeding under an Order for scheduling conference may be reset by conference call between the parties/counsel and the assignment office within 15 days of the date of issuance of the Order for scheduling conference if both sides agree, and without the necessity of a continuance request. The Areset@ scheduling conference shall occur within 30 days of the date of the original scheduling conference. If parties/counsel do not agree, a request for continuance shall be submitted in writing.
With advance approval, 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 all those participating in the proceeding.
If counsel and parties agree, the initial date for a show cause hearing related to a petition for contempt may be reset, once, by conference call with the assignment office. The reset date may not be later than 30 days from the originally scheduled date.
Family law cases proceeding under an alternative scheduling Order may be reset by conference call between the parties/counsel and the assignment office within 15 days of the issuance of the alternative scheduling Order if both sides agree, and without the necessity of a continuance request. The Areset@ date shall occur within 45 days of the date originally set forth in the alternative scheduling Order. If parties/counsel do not agree, a request for continuance shall be submitted in writing.
A strict continuance policy will be followed for all family law matters since parties and counsel will have had the opportunity to provide scheduling input at the time of the scheduling conference or pre-trial settlement conference. Scheduled events, including pre-trial settlement conferences, will not be postponed merely by the consent of the parties or because discovery or alternative dispute resolution has not been completed.
Counsel or parties seeking a continuance must first secure an agreed upon reset date in consultation with the assignment office before the Court will consider any such request. If a continuance is granted, the Court will determine the future scheduling of the case consistent with the intent and purposes of this DCM Plan and in accordance with the policies herein.
If a case has been specially assigned, continuance requests shall be directed to the specially assigned Judge. The standards for continuance of a hearing shall remain the same as for cases not specially assigned.
Normally, pendente lite hearings should be requested and will be set, if necessary, at the time of the scheduling conference. If a need for a pendente lite hearing arises after the scheduling conference, the party seeking a pendente lite hearing must do so by written motion outlining any substantially new information or developments which necessitate the requested relief. Once the time has passed for a response, which may be shortened in accordance with Md. Rule 1 204 upon request of counsel or a party, the motion will be considered by the DCM Judge or designee and if the request is granted, scheduled by the assignment office as directed by the court.
Pendente lite hearings shall be limited in time. For pendente lite hearings involving custody a two hour time limit shall be imposed. For all other pendente lite hearings a one hour time limit shall be imposed. In no event shall a pendente lite hearing be scheduled for more than two hours, except with the approval of the DCM Judge or designee.
7.1 Expedited Relief
There may be situations that do not meet the standard for emergency relief, but warrant expedited judicial intervention. Cases that may warrant expedited pendente lite relief or an expedited scheduling conference include but are not limited to cases where unless timely relief is granted there may be an imminent or ongoing hardship such as:
- relocation of a child which unreasonably may deprive a parent and/or child of habitually exercised child access if no order exists
- an unreasonable deprivation of child access
- a significant financial hardship to one party
- an inability to enroll a child in school because of the lack of a custody Order
- an inability to provide medical care because of the lack of a custody Order
In these types of cases, any party or counsel may request an expedited pendente lite hearing by filing the appropriate motion and a motion to shorten time. The latter must be filed in accordance with Md. Rule 1 204 and must include the required written certifications of failure to reach agreement and notice. Although the rule itself does not specify a time requirement for notice, the Court requires that 24 hours advance notice be provided before the motion to shorten time may be granted ex parte. The motion to shorten time shall promptly be presented by the clerk to the designated chambers Judge for ruling. The motion for expedited pendente lite hearing will be ruled on by the DCM Judge or designee. If the DCM Judge or designee finds that expedited judicial intervention is warranted, an expedited pendente lite hearing or expedited scheduling conference will be set by the assignment office as directed by the Court and based upon the circumstances found by the Court. Expedited pendente lite hearings are limited in time to one hour.
If the court finds sufficient allegations and support by affidavit or testimony as to an alleged hardship, it may seek to expedite a scheduling conference, pendente lite hearing, or both. The expedited hearing or scheduling conference, shall be set no later than two weeks from the date of the order directing the setting of the hearing unless other appropriate timing can be arranged which reasonably responds to the parties' concerns.
Motions for emergency relief must be filed in writing. With the exception of cases filed under the domestic violence statute, no motions for emergency relief will be granted unless a pleading for permanent relief has been filed at the same time as, or prior to, the emergency motion.
For cases where domestic violence is an issue, this process is a supplement to, and not an alternative to or replacement for, the procedures outlined in the Md. Ann. Code, Fam. Law ''4 501, et seq. regarding domestic violence petitions.
8.1 Ex Parte Relief
Motions for ex parte or emergency relief must be filed in accordance with Md. Rule 1-351. Although the Rule itself does not specify a time limit, the Court requires that opposing parties be provided 24 hours advance notice of motions for ex parte or emergency relief. The motion must include a written certification that proper notice has been provided.
If a motion for ex parte relief relies upon facts not contained in the record or presented in live testimony, the motion must be "based on a verified affidavit." Magness v. Magness, 79 Md. App. 668, appeal dismissed, 317 Md. 641 (1989). In accordance with Magness and other case law, the affiants must certify their personal knowledge of facts upon which they rely to support their claim for relief.
8.2 Standard for Emergency Relief
Motions for ex parte or emergency relief should be sought sparingly and only in circumstances that require immediate intervention. Emergency relief will be denied unless there is a sufficient showing that there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm or harassment to a party or minor child or that there are circumstances which the Court believes require immediate intervention in accordance with the aforementioned policy.
Motions for the immediate payment of child support and/or alimony or for visitation do not meet the standard for emergency relief.
Purely speculative evidence of harm will not be considered sufficient for emergency relief. See Magness, 79 Md. App. 668.
8.2.1 Ex Parte Emergency Procedure
Requests for ex parte and emergency relief shall be filed with the civil clerk's office and all parties shall comply with the provisions of Md. Rule 1-351. It is strongly encouraged that all such filings be presented to the Civil Clerk's Office no later than 12:30 p.m. on the day of the emergency hearing. These requests ordinarily will be heard by the Court on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1:30 p.m. The hearings will occur in the designated Master's hearing room where testimony may be taken before a decision is rendered. The civil clerk's office shall be responsible for delivering the Court file and pleadings to the designated Master.
- Other than requests made at the time of the scheduling conference, the following motions shall be ruled on by the DCM Judge or designee after review by the office of family law case management:
- motion for emergency relief (not presented for an emergency hearing)
- motion for pendente lite relief
- motion for expedited pendente lite relief
- motion to extend discovery
- motion to modify scheduling Order
- motion for psychological evaluation
- motion for custody evaluation unit investigation
- motion for appointment of counsel for minor child/ren
- motion to attend educational seminar(s)
- motion for custody/visitation mediation
- motion for property mediation
- motion for substance abuse assessment
- motion for referral to OCSE
If filed after the scheduling conference, any of the motions listed above may be denied unless there is substantially new information or developments which necessitate the relief requested.
9.1 Show Cause Orders
Show Cause Orders will be signed only when accompanied by a verified petition for contempt. Show Cause Orders will be denied if filed as part of an initial complaint or motion for modification.
Petitions for contempt shall be filed as a separate pleading and shall not be joined with requests for other relief.
The Court will actively manage discovery in an effort to reduce discovery problems and to increase efficiency and uniformity in resolving any such problems.
Discovery management by the Court may include:
- appropriate language from Md. Rule 2-504.1 in Orders for scheduling conferences;
- reminders by Master or Judge at scheduling conference as to prompt commencement of discovery;
- scheduling or pre-trial settlement conference continuance, if needed, with warning or actual sanctions per Md. Rule 2-508(e) (Counsel may be permitted an opportunity to confer as to such items in the hallway before a scheduling conference is continued, per Md. Rule 2-508, with possible assessment of costs for continuance);
- encouragement of parties' stipulation to accept e-mail or faxes for discovery and Agood faith@ communications in lieu of mailing to the extent possible (Scheduling Order might include check box for stipulation with e-mail addresses to be inserted and qualification that Aattachments, which cannot be scanned reasonably & attached shall be faxed or delivered in non-electronic form.@ Copies of e-mails shall be accepted by the Court with an attached certificate of service from counsel.) ;
- e-mail or other reminders from the Court to counsel or parties as to scheduling Order and discovery obligations; and
- informal or phone conferences by chambers Judges as to discovery disputes before issuing Orders or setting discovery sanction hearings.
10.1 Discovery Schedule
The Court will set a standard period for discovery after a scheduling conference for different types of cases, i.e., two to three months for a standard family law case. Initial interrogatories and requests for production of documents must be propounded within 30 days of the Order for scheduling conference. Upon good cause shown and with the approval of the DCM Judge or designee, the standard period may be extended or shortened if parties reach an agreed discovery schedule or if unusually simple or complex cases merit different time periods.
10.2 Discovery Conferences
To encourage prompt resolution of discovery disputes, the Court may facilitate telephone conferences and other good faith efforts to resolve discovery disputes at the earliest possible times, as well as providing written confirmation of such efforts and resulting stipulations in Court file memoranda or Orders.
10.3. Discovery Motions
Discovery motions and responses must comply with Md. Rule 2-432 format, with a good faith certificate and proposed Order.
Discovery motions shall be forwarded promptly to the chambers Judge for consideration.
10.4 Discovery Hearings
The Court ordinarily will not grant a hearing as to any motion to compel discovery. If a motion to compel discovery is granted, the time for compliance will not exceed 20 days. If compliance is not received, the discovering party must seek further relief promptly per Md. Rule 2-433 or the Court may find that the need for any further relief has been waived.
The Court may set a discovery sanctions hearing before the discovery sanctions Judge upon proper request if agreements and Orders to compel do not resolve disputes. The Court shall seek to resolve discovery disputes within a reasonable time before a pending pre-trial settlement conference.
10.5 Discovery Sanctions
The Discovery Sanctions Judge is the Administrative Judge=s designee to determine the entry of sanctions for discovery noncompliance. The Discovery Sanctions Judge shall have DCM authority to modify scheduling Orders as necessary for discovery compliance purposes.
If a discovery motion requests sanctions, the file initially shall be sent to the chambers Judge who shall review the file to determine the appropriateness of forwarding the file to the Discovery Sanctions Judge for action. Only the Discovery Sanctions Judge may enter sanctions from motions received in chambers, unless the case is specially assigned. The Discovery Sanctions Judge also will determine which cases should be set for a hearing.
10.5.1 Show Cause Orders.
If it appears that the parties and/or counsel have disregarded their scheduling Order obligations, the Discovery Sanctions Judge, DCM Judge, or designee may issue a Show Cause Order and schedule a hearing as to possible sanctions.
10.5.2 Discovery Sanctions
Discovery sanctions will be granted as appropriate to alleviate actual prejudice,
for expenses incurred by the discovering party or for deliberate noncompliance with Court Orders. Discovery sanctions may be denied if the motion was not timely filed, and in proper format, including a good faith certificate per Md. Rule 2-431.
Except as provided in section 10.5.4, motions shall: (1) be submitted in writing; (2) be timely filed in accordance with the Maryland Rules and any scheduling Order issued in the case; (3) be appropriately and clearly titled; (4) contain a certificate pursuant to Md. Rule 2-431; (5) include an affidavit as to attorney=s fees, if fees are requested; and (6) include a proposed Order.
To facilitate fair discovery sanctions, the Court may require counsel to submit itemized records as to attorney time and expenses relating to the discovery dispute. If the violation is disclosed only at trial, the Court may provide a brief hearing for production of such records, if a monetary sanction is sought.
Sanctions may include dismissal of a claim or defense, exclusion of evidence, fair
compensation as to documented expenses or other appropriate relief consistent with Maryland law.
In matters that relate to children or other parties with legal disabilities, sanctions ordinarily will be limited to Court costs, counsel fees, adverse inferences and civil fines. However, the Court has the discretion to impose any appropriate sanction.
For omitted discovery, the discovery sanctions Judge may direct the discovering party to obtain information directly by subpoena duces tecum, if desired, subject to later Court Order for reimbursement of costs.
10.5.4 Merits/Motion/Pendente Lite Hearings
Notwithstanding any other provision set forth in section 10, in the event that a discovery violation is first recognized during a scheduling conference, pre-trial settlement conference, merits, motion or pendente lite hearing, the trial Judge has the authority to impose any appropriate sanction. A Master has the authority to recommend the imposition of any appropriate sanction under similar circumstances. If appropriate, the trial Judge or Master has the authority to defer consideration of a specific sanction and refer the matter to the Discovery Sanctions Judge for a ruling.
The Court will take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with all family law case management Orders issued in accordance with this DCM plan. If an attorney and/or party fails to comply with any such Order, the Court will take appropriate action including, but not limited to, issuing a Show Cause Order; entering an Order of dismissal (including dismissing requests for specific relief such as for alimony or monetary award); and granting monetary and/or other sanctions.