This is an unprecedented time in our history. People are being ordered to stay in their homes and to limit their exposure to others. Businesses have had to close or change the way they operate. Children are being forced to learn at home.
Just a couple of months ago, no one knew “corona virus” or “Covid-19.” Now all we hear on the news is about the rising number of cases, the toll it is having on the economy and on our lives.
For those couples who are going through a divorce or thinking about divorce, there is uncertainty. Can the courts hear my case? Will this make my divorce take longer? Is it possible to deal with my parenting time issues? This situation can cause a great deal of fear of being stuck in a bad marriage or relationship because of the pandemic.
There are other options. One way for spouses to work through their problems is mediation. Mediation is a private process that occurs outside of the courts. Couples work with a mediator, who is a neutral party, to resolve their issues. Mediators can use many different tools and techniques to assist the couple to address their problems and help them to work towards solutions that they both find mutually agreeable. Once the spouses have resolved all of their concerns, the mediator will then prepare a Memorandum of Understanding which lays out all of the terms of their agreement.
Mediation can occur in a virtual world. I can meet with clients through an online platform so that we can discuss their issues just as we would in my office. Technology allows for private conversations as needed and has other tools to help come to a resolution. Because it is a process outside of the courts, it is not dependent on the court being open. Spouses can work with their and the mediator’s schedule to determine how and when meetings will occur.
Even if a couple is currently in a court(litigated) divorce, they can use a mediator to resolve their differences. As a trained mediator, I can work with spouses who are in litigation and help them to resolve their differences even though the courts are not open to the public. Meetings can happen with or without the lawyers representing the couple on the call, it is totally up to the couple.
Another option for couples looking to divorce during a pandemic is collaborative divorce. Like mediation, it is a private process that occurs outside of the court. The difference is that in collaborative divorces, each spouse has his or her own attorney to assist them in the process. Often, collaborative divorces use the services of a divorce coach to help facilitate the meetings and to help spouses deal with the emotional issues that arise in a divorce. A coach may also help the couple work out parenting plans or other issues concerning the children.
Collaborative divorce can happen in a pandemic. Most collaborative lawyers like myself are ready and able to work with clients in a virtual world. We can hold meetings, write agendas and agreements and resolve problems without the assistance of the courts. Many of us also have referrals for mortgage brokers, realtors, accountants and other non-legal professionals who can assist in putting the agreement into action. Even during shelter-in-place, life can move forward. Out of court options for divorce like mediation and collaborative divorce make sense even when the world is not in crisis. They offer options that are centered around the needs of the family and can proceed at the pace of the spouses. Both options tend to cost less than the typical litigated divorce, saving families money during a time when they may need it most. During a pandemic, collaborative divorce and mediation make more sense because they are not reliant on the availability of the court and can proceed in a virtual world.