The COVID-19 virus has impacted the lives of people all over the world and has created an atmosphere of uncertainty like never before. It has affected almost every industry and function, and our judicial system is no exception.
As an experienced St. Louis divorce mediation attorney, I can ratify that the ongoing pandemic has greatly affected everyone’s ability to attend to their legal matters. Courts are closed to the public, and all legal personnel including judges, lawyers, and other staff will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. The long process of divorce litigation will also be subjected to extended delays.
Divorce in Corona Times
One of the major outcomes of the pandemic that several divorce lawyers are expecting to face is an increase in the number of divorce filings. It is being widely anticipated that once the lockdown restrictions are lifted and the courts open up, there will be a surge in divorce cases.
According to Susan Myres, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “there will be a rush to the courthouse” when operations resume in jurisdictions that are currently closed.
There is a solution to this for couples who are tired of being locked in with each other and want to separate without waiting for the court to begin operations. I’m referring to virtual divorce mediation. This process can also help couples who do not want to take the time-consuming and stressful litigation route and work through their issues more privately.
Virtual Divorce Mediation to the Rescue
As such, divorce mediation is a private process where both parties come together to negotiate and resolve their matters. This process is particularly effective in amicably resolving parenting and financial issues.
Instead of pursuing the resolution of their disputes in the courts that are already riddled with a tremendous backlog, couples can choose to iron out their issues with the help of a neutral third party, i.e. an accredited divorce mediator.
Technology and the internet play a huge role in enabling virtual divorce mediation with couples who want to dissolve their marriage while adequately addressing contentions. This method also puts to rest all the concerns regarding social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Requirements for Virtual Divorce Mediation in Missouri
In keeping with the norms for social distancing, virtual divorce mediation does not require spouses to be physically around each other. To conduct this process successfully, however, both spouses will need to ensure the following:
- They should be willing to actively participate and cooperate in the mediation
- They need to be open to engaging in good faith negotiations with the aim of resolving the issues between them
- They are required to be mentally fit and capable of making their own decisions
- They should want to exercise meaningful control over the decision-making process and the settlement
- They have to agree to work with an experienced professional, who will guide them through the process
How the Virtual Divorce Mediation Process Works
A virtual mediation is a quick and efficient process. Both spouses set up an appointment at a time that works for them as well as any other party that needs to join in. This can be at any time, for example, lunch hour or when the kids are asleep, or whenever you can set aside a couple of hours.
The sessions are conducted via conference call over a video platform such as Zoom or Skype. The mediator facilitates the negotiations between both parties so they can arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement. Once the terms are agreed upon, a document is made which is signed by both parties and is transmitted electronically.
Just like the traditional face-to-face mediation, the virtual process also requires both spouses to schedule their session with a mediator at a suitable time. In virtual mediation, no party is required to travel anywhere. You can attend the session from the comfort of any room in your home. Neither party needs to be in the same place at the same time.
Before, During, and After the Sessions
Before the virtual mediation session begins, the mediator will send both parties an email to inquire about the issues each one wants to focus on in the upcoming meeting. This is done to ensure that the session flows smoothly and in a structured manner while addressing matters important to both parties.
The session is convened over a conference video call. The mediator will talk to both parties individually and inform the spouses of each other’s stand. The mediator may take turns speaking with each party and go back-and-forth until the issue is resolved.
Upon finishing the session, the mediator creates a memorandum which stipulates the settlements reached during the meeting. This agreement is emailed to both spouses.
Benefits of Virtual Divorce Mediation during COVID-19 (and Beyond)
Choosing virtual divorce mediation brings the following benefits to both spouses:
- It Offers Comfort and Convenience
Virtual mediations can be conducted from anywhere, whether is it work, home, when traveling, or even from a car. The need for enduring hours of traffic to reach a particular physical location and wait for other parties to arrive and get ready is eliminated. This can be particularly helpful in the current COVID-19 situation when quarantining and lockdowns are the order of the day. Both spouses can achieve the outcome they desire and get the divorce settlement without being stopped by social distancing norms.
- It Is Quicker
Scheduling virtual mediation appointments and sessions take no more than a couple of days, speeding up the process. It is easy for the busiest of individuals to set aside an hour to two when they know that the process can be conducted online. Further, all required documents can be emailed immediately. When the parties reach a settlement, they receive the paperwork in a matter of minutes.
- It Is Cost-Effective
Mediators typically charge an hourly fee, which is much lower compared to the costs incurred when going for traditional mediation. Moreover, you also save money as you do not have to travel, pay for parking, take time off from work, or hire a babysitter as the mediation can be conducted at your convenience.
- It Encourages Open Communication
Sometimes, one party may feel uncomfortable or intimidated by being in the same room as their soon-to-be ex-spouse. This may hinder communication and the former may not be able to express themselves freely. With virtual mediation, both sides can speak freely since they will not be physically present in the same place.
- It Provides Flexibility
When either party is unable to be present for a traditional mediation session due to immobility from health reasons or geographical disparity or even social distancing, virtual mediation can help. It can work as an effective option as the parties may not be able to mediate otherwise.
- It Expands Mediator Choices
If you live in a small town or are having trouble finding a good divorce mediator in your neighborhood, you can go for virtual mediation and expand your choices. You can select the mediator you feel most comfortable and confident working with.
- It Provides Privacy
If your divorce is resolved during a court hearing, the details of your relationship and your finances will likely become part of the public record. Mediation provides a private option that allows you resolve your issues during a divorce without worrying about sensitive details becoming public.
How to Prepare for Remote Divorce Mediation in Missouri
It is important that you come into divorce mediation prepared for what to expect. This remains true during the coronavirus pandemic. Preparation for your mediation could look differently however, as it is likely to occur remotely.
Prepare The Relevant Documents
Divorce mediation is less formal than a court proceeding, but the issues resolved during mediation are the same. This means it is vital that you go into mediation prepared. Divorce can be a document-heavy process, and you should have all of the records necessary ready beforehand. This includes financial records as well as a list of your assets.
Be Familiar With The Technology
There are numerous platforms that allow divorcing spouses and their attorneys to handle a mediation remotely during the pandemic. While Zoom has become synonymous with online meetings there are numerous other teleconferencing platforms available to you.
What is important is that you fully understand how this technology works before you begin the process of mediation. Try out the technology during a practice run to ensure you can turn it on, mute your microphone, or disconnect when needed.
Listen to your Divorce Attorney
Handing your divorce mediation remotely might feel foreign to you. The entire mediation process could also be confusing if you have never been through it before. The good news is that your attorney is likely to have extensive experience taking on mediations remotely at this point. Your attorney could provide you with important guidelines and helpful tips for moving forward with your case forward.
There are also pitfalls to be aware of during remote mediations that you might not be aware of. Rely on your attorney to ensure you give yourself the best chance for a favorable outcome during your divorce mediation.
What You Might Cover In Your Virtual Mediation in Missouri
Your divorce mediation might occur remotely, but that does not limit the scope of the proceedings. With the help of your attorney, you could use this online meeting to completely resolve all of the complex issues in your pending divorce. Some of these issues include:
Property and Debt Division
One of the central disputes in many divorce cases is the division of marital property and debts. Both spouses will likely have their own vision on how property should be distributed, and those visions do not always align. A mediator could help get the parties on the same page.
Child custody disputes are often the most difficult part of a divorce. Prior to going into your mediation, it is helpful to understand the legal terms surrounding custody issues. This understanding of the basics could ensure you get what you want out of the process.
Financial support for your minor children is another common factor covered during mediation. The state has guidelines for support that will serve as the starting point for negotiations, but it is worth noting it is possible to deviate from these guidelines.
Insurance coverage—particularly for health insurance—is often a sticking point in a divorce. Many couples are reliant on coverage through one spouse’s employment. This can complicate insurance issues following the dissolution of a marriage. Mediation is a good opportunity to work out those issues and plan for the future.
Communicating in the Future
It is helpful to use mediation to determine how the parties should communicate with each other in the future. Communication might not be difficult in a divorce that is resolved amicably. That said, some couples are likely to struggle with any communication whatsoever after their divorce is finalized. Making a plan for communication could limit disputes in the future once the final decree is entered by the court.
Divorce isn’t easy even when couples choose to go for a peaceful separation. Couples should, however, be aware of their divorce resolution alternatives to be able to decide what’s most suitable for meeting their current as well as future needs. The current COVID-19 situation has necessitated social distancing, which is why virtual divorce mediation can be the best way forward for spouses who do not want to put their separation on hold. The best thing about it is that it upholds all the benefits of traditional divorce mediation, along with convenience and reduced costs. Hopefully, this post has provided you with all the information you need to understand this technology-powered process better.
Talk to St. Louis Divorce Mediation Attorney Today!