The Honorable Judge Katherine Dupuis, (Retired) and Nicole A. Kobis, partner at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook, & Cooper, P.C., explain how divorce can be handled virtually
If classroom lessons and workout classes can be conducted virtually, does the same hold true for divorce proceedings?
The short answer to this is yes. Virtual alternative dispute resolution will result in a faster divorce process during times like these when the courts have limited capabilities and a back log of matters to be heard.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where you and your spouse hire a neutral third party, who is usually a retired judge or attorney, to help resolve the issues associated with your divorce. This includes crafting a parenting time schedule, holiday and vacation schedule and calculating alimony and child support. Decisions will have to be made regarding dividing assets, such as a house, and also debts, including credit cards. A mediator does not decide the issues. They cannot force either party to agree to anything; however, they are experienced in this specific area of law and offer their knowledge and opinions to help you reach an agreement.
Why choose mediation when getting divorced?
Divorces take time. When you reach the point of wanting a divorce, you may likely want the divorce process to end quickly, so you can move onto the next chapter of your life. If you and your spouse want to proceed traditionally through the court process, there are many time-consuming steps that you must go through before a Judge will hear your case. This process can be quite costly. While that may be necessary in some cases, mediation allows you to cut to the front of the line and start discussing how to resolve issues sooner, rather than later, in the process. If you can reach an agreement, your case may proceed directly to court, and it is possible to be divorced in as little as a week.
Mediation also allows the person who knows your family best (you) to remain in charge of the outcome of your case. A court is faced with hundreds of cases a year. No judge or lawyer will ever know your family, and, most importantly, your children, the way that you do. Mediation allows you to maintain control over what you feel is best for your children and for the new normal that you will all enter.
What is virtual mediation and how does it work?
Virtual mediation uses platforms such as Zoom to create a virtual conference room so that both you and your spouse, and your respective attorneys, can see and interact with the mediator. The mediator will also have the ability to set up break out rooms where you and your attorney can discuss issues privately with the mediator.
Why choose virtual mediation?
As of now, courts are not allowing litigants or lawyers in the courtroom. It is anyone’s guess as to when this will change. If you want to move forward with your divorce, virtual mediation allows you to do so in a timely manner that follows social distancing norms.
Virtual mediation is efficient and cost effective. Your mediator will be prepared to discuss the specific issues that need to be resolved in your matter, instead of you waiting at a courthouse for your case to be taken by a Judge with a full calendar of other cases to hear. Your mediator will be dedicated only to you and your needs.
How do you prepare for virtual mediation?
It’s important to choose a mediator that is a good fit for your family. Find someone who works specifically with divorce issues. The more experience a mediator has, the more effective they will be in knowing the process and having creative solutions to solve different issues. Choosing a mediator, or an attorney, for that matter, is no different than picking a doctor. You need to be comfortable with that person because you will be discussing details about your life that you may have never shared even with your best friend.
Research and retain an attorney. While you can attend virtual mediation by yourself, retaining an attorney to explain your rights and educate you on the divorce process can prove helpful in navigating and aiding you through an often new and emotional life change. An attorney can also assist you in choosing a mediator that best fits your case.
Meet with your attorney and discuss your priorities. Do you want to stay in your house until your son graduates from high school? Do you want your children to continue attending private school? What happens to the gift that your grandma gave you that was deposited into your joint checking account? Your attorney should be well versed in these situations, and others, and be able to discuss your options.
Head into virtual mediation with a plan. A settlement is about give and take. Recognize that neither you or your spouse are going to get everything that you want, so prioritize the items that mean the most to you and where you’re willing to compromise to arrive at a settlement.
Remember, a virtual divorce is still a process. Are some couples able to reach an agreement after one session? Yes. Do many have to attend more sessions to resolve more complicated matters? Yes. While the country is in the throes of a pandemic, the amount of time you spend in mediation does not compare to the delays that will be seen by the courts.