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Maryland judges have wide discretion to refer parties to mediate a variety of civil matters. Title 17 of the Maryland Rules, enacted in 1998, governs mediation of civil cases in the circuit courts. These rules are supplemented by Maryland Rule 9-205, which addresses mediation of child custody and visitation disputes. Although these rules define mediation and address mediator qualifications in some detail, they say very little about either a party's right to object to mediation or the court's authority to compel participation in mediation.

Given that the mediation rules are relatively new and mediation orders would generally be considered interlocutory, no appellate law on the scope of the court's authority to compel participation in mediation currently exists in Maryland. With this lack of clarity in the law, practitioners may have some question about their options when faced with an order to mediate.

In many cases, compliance with the order will be in the best interest of the client. But attorneys should always consider whether mediation is the most appropriate dispute resolution method for the client and the particular case. This practice tip will offer some guidance about when mediation might not be in your client's best interest, how to make an objection to a mediation order and what to expect from the court.