The Coronavirus Pandemic and Divorce Mediation
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, divorce was a stressful proposition. In the midst of the health emergency, divorce lawyers have canceled in-person meetings. With Pennsylvania’s confirmed infection toll at over 124,000 as of August, many of the county courts are just starting to tackle a backlog of family court cases.
Understanding the Mediation Process
Divorce mediation is all about communication. Often, when couples reach the point of splitting up, there are emotional barriers that make direct communication difficult. In a mediation process, the couple sits with a third party who helps them talk through the many decisions a divorce requires. Mediation sessions will cover such areas as:
- Division of property
- Child support
- Child custody
Candidates for Mediation
Mediation minimizes the amount of time spent in a courtroom as well as often lowering the cost of the divorce. However, the mediation process is not for everyone. Spouses must maintain a decent level of communication. If one partner cannot be in the presence of the other without getting angry and upset, this process will not be helpful.
For a productive mediation, both spouses must be committed to the goal of peacefully ending the relationship. This is not a counseling session where a couple is trying to resolve issues and stay together. Mediation is a process for formally ending a marriage.
Virtual Technology and Mediation
Because mediation is about meaningful communication, virtual technology allows the process to continue during a time of social distancing. Using an online communication platform like Zoom, the couple can meet with their mediator in a virtual mediation session. A conference call is another way that partners can communicate with the mediator.
The spouses will deal with the same issues in a virtual setting. However, online mediation will bring new challenges. In most in-person mediation processes, the sessions end with the couple signing forms together at the legal office. An action that took a few minutes may be extended to days as forms travel by mail or the spouses make separate signing appointments.
Delays in Divorce Because of COVID-19
Mediation is not the final step in divorce proceedings. If the mediation is successful, the couple will have a separation agreement that handles the necessary aspects of dissolving the marriage. However, the court must approve the agreement, and the couple must swear to the agreement through the court. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down this part of the divorce process.
The advantage of virtual mediation during the pandemic is that spouses do not have to wait to prepare the agreement. It is a great relief to have the separation agreement in writing and ready to go. As the courts reopen and begin to hear divorce cases, the couple will be ready for their final session.
Tips for Meaningful Communication on Virtual Platforms
The COVID-19 pandemic has moved a great deal of communication online. Of course, this kind of format is quite different than sitting face-to-face around a table. Couples can expect some challenges when working with this technology for mediation.
The couple should be prepared for pauses. Differing internet speeds can cause lag that disrupts the natural flow of conversation. When someone speaks, other participants should take a beat before responding. Participants can use hand gestures like waving to indicate that they would like to speak. In some cases, it will be best for the mediator to call on the participants for input.
The couple should be ready for the meeting. Online communication often feels less formal. However, these sessions will be the most productive if participants can minimize distractions and have all of their necessary documents in front of them.
Patience is a necessity. There will be frustrating moments during an online session. The technology may not always work perfectly. Children and pets will not always behave in the background. It is best to acknowledge the imperfections and move forward.
As a divorce lawyer in Pennsylvania, Joanne Kleiner can help you through the mediation process as either a mediator or legal advisor. To find out more, you can reach out to the Law Office of Joanne Kleiner in Jenkintown through our website or by calling 215-886-1266.