Holiday Parenting/Custodial Time during COVID-19

Holiday Parenting/Custodial Time during COVID-19

Separated parents are dealing with unique and significant challenges this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts across the country have generally affirmed that COVID-19 is not a valid reason to deny parenting time to a parent who is otherwise fit to care for their child(ren), and many states have advised parents to follow normal custody schedules during the pandemic.

While all of this might be good general guidance, we know that following “normal” custody schedules is simply not practical in a world full of “new normals”. COVID-19 is an extraordinary public health event for which there are no prior precedents, and for many families, scheduling disruptions and lingering concerns about the virus will most certainly impact holiday parenting/custodial time, perhaps in some very significant ways.

COVID-19 and Holiday Gatherings

The CDC has issued various guidelines for how to safely conduct holiday gatherings this year. Among them include:

  • Consider the current number and rate of COVID-19 cases in the community before planning a holiday gathering.
  • Limit the number of people at the gathering (the CDC does not recommend a specific number).
  • Limit the duration of gatherings as longer gatherings pose more risk of spreading the virus.
  • If the weather permits, use an outdoor venue rather than indoor one for your gathering. If indoors, make sure the venue has good ventilation such as open windows and/or doors.
  • As much as possible, limit the attendees to those who live in the same area.
  • Ensure that attendees follow recommended mitigation efforts, such as distancing, wearing of face coverings, handwashing, and the frequent use of sanitation.

When considering whether or not to bring a child to a holiday gathering (such as Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s house for example), these and other factors need to be taken into consideration. In years past, you may have thought nothing of bringing your child to interact with your parents, even if he/she had the sniffles. But since seniors are at the highest risk of severe and fatal illness from COVID-19, you will need to think carefully about whether or not it is a good idea to have your kids visit their grandparents this year.

Along these same lines, holiday shopping is sure to be a far different experience this year. In a typical year, crowded malls and long lines do not bother most shoppers, and visits with Santa are often one of the highlights for children. If this is something your child looks forward to every year, it would be a good idea to manage their expectations.

COVID-19 and Holiday Travel

Traveling is another area where families will need to make a lot of adjustments this year. Traveling to different places and coming into contact with different people increases the chances of spreading the virus, so the CDC advises that staying home is the best way to protect yourself, especially if you are in a high risk category.

All that said, we know that travel is a major aspect of holiday parenting/custodial time for many separated parents. If you and your ex live in a different state or even on the other side of the same state, it is pretty hard to avoid having your children travel to a different area in order to spend time with the other parent. This will require meticulous planning to ensure safe travel, and for children who normally travel alone, it might be a very good idea to have one of the parents accompany them this year.

In some cases, it might make sense to forgo holiday travel for this year, especially if the parents live a significant distance from each other and flying is usually the way the kids travel back and forth. As an alternative, you could schedule several days of virtual visits (through Zoom or whatever other platform) and/or make up for the lost in-person time later. Every individual situation is different, so you will need to speak with the other parent about the best way to handle travel this year.

Parental Disagreements about the Pandemic

We would be remiss if we did not talk about one of the major issues that separated parents have dealt with during the COVID-19 outbreak; disputes over how serious the pandemic really is and how to deal with it. When the outbreak started last spring, the country was largely united in its resolve to “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve”. But as time has gone on, people are becoming more divided about this issue, and at times it has reached the point where things have become very contentious and it is very hard to find any common ground.

Get Professional Help with Your Holiday Parenting Plan 

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot come to an agreement with your ex about holiday parenting/custodial time during COVID-19, it might be time to consider getting outside help rather than battling things out in court. One method that has worked well for many couples is mediation. 

Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral, third-party mediator guides the discussion toward peaceable and workable solutions that all participants can agree to. It costs only a fraction of the cost of going back to court, and sessions can be done in person or remotely, whatever the participants are most comfortable with.

At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have several years of experience helping couples with divorce mediation and mediation for all other types of family legal issues. We have worked successfully with countless couples over the years, and we may be able to help resolve your parenting/custodial time issues. To get started, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172 for a free consultation.

Being Emotionally Ready for Divorce Mediation

Being Emotionally Ready for Divorce Mediation

A question I often ask clients when they come to me for a consultation for divorce mediation, “Are you each emotionally ready to mediate your divorce”?  Many times, I get a look of confusion, they must be thinking, “well yes, why else am I here”.

In reality, the question means so much more. Different clients have different reasons for agreeing to mediate their divorces. The overwhelming majority of our clients feel that it is a much better way to divorce because it gives them the power to control the outcome. 

They decide that no matter what led them down this road, that really doesn’t matter, what matters is how they wish to proceed. They are trying their hardest to protect their children and themselves from an adversarial process which would stir up contention and emotional strife. They want to resolve their divorce in a civil manner, so they can preserve delicate family relationships.

Some people decide that they want to save money and that becomes the focus and the main goal of divorce mediation. Totally understandable, most people look for the most cost-effective way to proceed in most things.  

Some individuals may choose mediation for one reason and then use the mediation process as a way of “getting back” at their soon to be ex-spouse for years of what they believe were injustices or even the reason for the divorce. 

When it comes to divorce mediation, those couples who are truly successful are the ones who have decided and are emotionally ready to move forward, even if they still have certain conflicting emotions about their divorce. They choose to temper their emotions and truly focus on the future and the best way of moving forward, understanding that it is a negotiation and that there are issues on which they are willing to compromise.

What if One of the Spouses Needs More Time? 

You might be thinking, “being emotionally ready to mediate my divorce makes sense, but how do I get to that place?”

This is a valid question, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. 

We know that in many divorce cases, the spouses are at much different places in their journey. One spouse may have decided quite a while ago to end the marriage, while the other feels as if they have been blindsided. One spouse may already be in a relationship with someone else and ready to start a new life, while the other is still in the shock and denial stage.

When these types of circumstances exist, it may be necessary to slow down a little bit and give the spouse who is going through the initial shock a chance to get a hold of themselves and prepare for the road ahead. In some cases, it may be very helpful for the spouse who is still grieving the loss of the marriage to seek additional help from a therapist and/or from local support groups.

If one of the spouses needs extra time before they will be emotionally ready to begin divorce mediation, that is perfectly okay. Even if you wait an extra month or two, you will still be able to complete your divorce through mediation more quickly and for far less money than if you choose the traditional litigation route.

The point is that if it takes a little longer for both spouses to be emotionally prepared for mediation, it will be worth the wait, because you will have a far better chance of reaching a successful, thoughtful resolution.

Preparing Emotionally for Divorce MediationEmotional preparation is often a matter of adopting the right mindset to succeed in whatever situation you are in. Think of an athlete who just lost one of his parents but decides to put on the uniform anyway and leads his team to victory. It’s not that the grief of his loss wasn’t still there, it’s just that he chose not to focus on it and instead chose to focus on the task at hand.

There have been many instances of athletes who have done this very thing, but there are others who were not emotionally ready to play yet after losing a parent. This goes back to what we previously discussed about the need for time to grieve, work things through, and in some cases, seek counseling.

If you are at the stage where you are working things through and you think you are getting emotionally ready for divorce mediation, here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Agree to Mediate: Sometimes, just the very commitment to mediate the divorce causes a person to focus on a successful outcome rather than the conflicting emotions they may be dealing with. Mediation is a voluntary process. Once both spouses have committed to it, it becomes everyone’s focus to see it through and reach a fair settlement.
  • Set Goals for the Mediation Process: Take some time figuring out everything you have financially (assets and possessions) and how you view the parental relationship for both you and your spouse to your children. Then set some goals for how you want these issues to be resolved. As we talked about earlier, you must be willing to compromise, so think about those things that are in the category of “must haves” versus the things that are in the category of “it would be nice to have”. If you are unable to have these discussions without causing conflict, wait until mediation to have the discussion. An experience divorce mediator will help you through this process in a productive way.
  • Consider your Children: We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a peaceable and workable settlement for the sake of your children. Divorce is always hard on kids, but you can minimize the negative impact by agreeing to be civil around them and not to badmouth the other parent. Consider also that, although divorce is never an ideal outcome, millions of children have gone through it and gone on to live successful, well-adjusted lives. How the children handle divorce, depends a great deal on the parents, the less conflict and unrest, the  better the children will be equipped to handle this change in the family dynamics. 
  • Decide on In-Person or Virtual Mediation: With COVID-19 still on everybody’s mind, more couples are choosing virtual mediation, which can be done remotely with a phone or internet connection. But even before the pandemic hit, some clients still preferred this method because they either have a busy travel schedule or they are more comfortable not being in the same room with their spouse.
  • Take Your Time: It is important to understand that the issues you are working on during mediation do not all have to be resolved in one session. If you and your spouse are at an impasse about something, that’s okay. Sometimes, it is good to sleep on it, reflect, and come back and discuss it another day. Do not rush things, and do not feel pressured to agree to something you don’t want to agree to just because a session is about to end.

Contact AMS for More Information 

If you feel that you are emotionally ready for divorce mediation, Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS) is here to help. We have worked closely with countless couples over the years and helped successfully resolve their divorces through mediation, and we can do the same for you if you are committed to it.

Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to get started whenever you are. To schedule your free consultation, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!

Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Broke: Why an Uncontested Divorce Makes Sense for High Net Worth Couples

Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Broke: Why an Uncontested Divorce Makes Sense for High Net Worth Couples

When couples with significant assets decide to get divorced, it can become a costly and protracted proceeding. In New Jersey, for example, the average cost for divorce attorney fees ranges between $12,500 and $14,500. But high net worth couples are not average, they have many unique issues that take more time to resolve, and their legal fees are often much higher. 

With so much property and assets at stake, there is the potential for a long and drawn out court battle. And before everything is said and done, you could find that a substantial portion of your net worth is eaten up in legal fees. It doesn’t have to be this way, however.

There are better alternatives these days for high net worth couples, and divorce mediation is an increasingly preferred method. Through mediation, a couple can resolve all of their issues outside of court, so it officially becomes an uncontested divorce. This is not to say that there are no issues along the way, it is just that the couple chooses to work them out on their own with the help and guidance of a professional, third-party divorce mediator.

How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a cooperative approach that can be done in a live setting or virtually, whatever the spouses are most comfortable with. The spouses meet with the mediator, who is there to facilitate the discussion and guide the conversation toward a civil and workable resolution. 

During the mediation process, outside specialists can be brought in to help deal with various issues in which they have in-depth expertise. For example, high net worth couples often require the assistance of CPAs, business appraisers, real estate experts, and other financial specialists for the various types of property and assets that need to be divided. 

As an aside, at AMS, we have in-house experts that can be brought in when needed to help ensure a seamless process from start to finish. These professionals are not only experienced in their area of expertise but they also have experience in dealing with mediating parties. Very different from professionals who only work with attorneys for litigated divorces.

All in all, the divorce mediation process can be completed in as soon as a couple of months or maybe a little longer, depending on the complexity of your situation and the time it takes to resolve everything. Either way, this is significantly less time than it would take to go through traditional divorce litigation.

How High Net Worth Couples Can Benefit from Divorce Mediation

As we have touched on previously, an uncontested divorce that is done through mediation can save high net worth couples tens of thousands of dollars or more in legal costs, and the couple can complete their divorce in a fraction of the time it would take for the process to go through court. These are not the only benefits of mediation, however. There are several others as well, including:

  • Cooperative Environment: Because divorce mediation is done in a collaborative setting, there is a greater likelihood of reaching an satisfactory agreement. The process also allows you to avoid what could be a highly contentious court battle with the potential to foster lasting bitterness between the spouses. The ability to preserve delicate family relationships is especially important if there are children involved.
  • Confidential Process: Mediation sessions are held confidentially, and nothing that is discussed ever becomes part of the public court record. This allows participants to speak more freely knowing their words will not be held against them later on, and for high net worth couples, it also helps ensure that no part of their divorce proceeding ever ends up in the media.
  • Flexible Settlements: Family courts tend to take more of a cookie-cutter approach to divorce settlements, one of the main reasons being that they simply do not have time to delve too deeply into each individual case. As a result, divorced couples can end up with a final settlement that no one is happy with. Divorce mediation is different. During mediation, you can spend as much time as you need to on the issues that matter most, and you and your spouse have the freedom and flexibility to get creative and come up with win-win resolutions that work for everyone.
  • More Control over the Process: At the end of the day, the participants are the ones who must agree to any settlement that is produced during divorce mediation. The process is entirely voluntary, and nothing can be imposed on either of the spouses against their will. This gives the spouses a large amount of control over the process, and it also makes it more likely that they will take ownership of what is agreed to and follow through on all of their obligations.

AMS Is Here to Help with your High Net Worth Divorce

If you are considering a divorce and mediation sounds like an option you would like to know more about, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation to help decide if it is right for you. We have worked with numerous high net worth couples over the years, and we have handled divorces with all levels of complexity. You can choose in person or virtual mediation sessions, and we will work closely with you throughout the process to help ensure that it produces a positive outcome.

To get started, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!

Resolving Parenting Plans Amidst Uncertain School Schedules

Resolving Parenting Plans Amidst Uncertain School Schedules

As our nation continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, debates are raging across the country about how to safely reopen the schools. Each state has its own guidelines, and in most states, school districts have been given the flexibility to decide what works best in their local area.

Under New Jersey guidelines, for example, in-person instruction must be part of the reopening plan, but districts are also allowed to use a “hybrid” model that combines both in person and distance learning. And of course, there is a long list of safety measures that must be implemented for in-person classes.

As we move into the final days of summer, many parents still do not know what is happening with their local schools. Will the kids be in school, or will they be at home doing distance learning? Or will they be doing some of both? 

Will they be staggering school hours to keep the class sizes lower? If so, how will that affect their child’s start time? What about sports and other extracurricular activities? Are these still happening, or are some or all of them going to be canceled?

These are all questions that parents usually know the answer to at least a few months in advance, but this year, many are left waiting for last-minute decisions. And one thing we have come to realize with COVID-19 is that none of these decisions are ever etched in stone. They can change at the drop of a hat if there is a new spike in cases and officials decide to implement stricter mitigation policies.

The Key to Parenting Plans During COVID-19: Flexibility

Every parenting situation is different. In many families, both parents work at least some of the time to provide for their children, while there are still some in which only one parent works. The distance between the two separated or divorced parents can vary widely as well. Some parents live in the same neighborhood or at least the same town, while others live a significant distance from each other.

All of these and other specific factors need to go into creating a parenting plan that works for everyone. And one of the key pieces of information that all those involved need to know is the school schedule. Knowing when your child gets on the bus or gets dropped off to school and when they come home is critical to planning the rest of the day, and for parents in particular, knowing what hours they can work.

These days, there are many occupations in which a parent can work from home, and a lot of parents were able to do that last spring when all of the schools were switched to distance learning. But there are still a good number of jobs that require an employee to be on-site.

With all of this going on, parents who are trying to work out a viable plan need to be patient, understanding, and perhaps most importantly, flexible. It is understandable that you may be frustrated with the situation. We all hoped that the schedule disruptions created by COVID-19 would be temporary and that by now, we would have been able to go back to our normal lives. 

As time has gone on, however, it has become apparent that this virus is not likely to go away completely and another wave could hit us again when the weather gets colder. It could be that things will not really be able to get back to normal until we have a vaccine, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, parents just need to understand that we are all dealing with the same thing here, and we need to work together to get through this. If the school schedule throws you a curveball, you just need to get together with the other parent and figure out how to overcome it. There is no one-size-fits-all answer – you will need to develop a workable plan based on your own unique circumstances.

AMS Is Here to Help

If you and the other parent are having difficulty working out a parenting plan around your child’s school schedule, you are not alone. Countless parents are dealing with the same situation you are, and there is help available. Sometimes, the perspective of an outside professional can help parents overcome the barriers that are blocking them from coming up with a plan they can both agree to. And this is where mediation can often be a great solution.

At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have several years of experience helping clients with all types of family-related issues. We have worked closely with numerous parents who have had difficulty developing workable parenting schedules on their own, and we are available to help you during this uncertain time. 

We are currently offering extended hours, and we are set up to provide in-person or virtual mediation sessions, whatever you and the other participant are most comfortable with. Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to get started whenever you need us. Get in touch with us today by messaging us online or calling our office at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!

Divorce Mediation: Using Caucusing to Relieve Pandemic Stress

Divorce Mediation: Using Caucusing to Relieve Pandemic Stress

This is a very unusual time for couples who are getting divorced. Divorce is already one of the most emotionally taxing processes that anyone ever has to go through, but when you add a global pandemic to the equation, it can push a lot of people to the breaking point. Many couples choose divorce mediation because it is far less stressful than a long and expensive court battle, but the stress that everyone is under has made mediation sessions more challenging as well.

As we have progressed through the pandemic, we have made some adjustments and learned some methods that we have helped couples deal with the stress of the situation. One method that has worked particularly well during COVID-19 is caucusing. We have been using caucusing a lot more lately, and it has proven to be a very successful method for helping divorcing spouses reach a settlement agreement through mediation.

What is Caucusing?

In mediation, a caucus is a private meeting between the mediator and one of the participants. The mediator meets with participants separately and goes back and forth between them until the point when/if they are ready to meet together to complete the process. Caucusing is used fairly often during commercial mediations, but it is not as common with divorces and other types of family law mediation.

Either participant can request a caucus at any point during mediation. The mediator might also suggest a caucus if it seems like an appropriate time to do so. There are no set time limits on the length of a caucus, and there are no limits on how many caucuses can be held during a particular mediation session. 

A caucus might be a one-time occurrence, or there could be multiple caucuses during the same session. Sometimes, the couple will come back and meet together again to finish out the process, while in other cases, the entire process is completed with separate meetings. The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to do it, the key is to understand the parties and work in whatever way will help them the most. 

What are Some of the Benefits of Caucusing?

There are several reasons why caucusing might be beneficial during divorce mediation:

  • Break Down Communication Barriers: Sometimes, the spouses might reach an impasse where they seem unable to maintain constructive dialogue. When this happens, it can be helpful for the participants to take a break from meeting together so they can collect their thoughts and start to work through some of the more challenging issues.
  • Open Up Creativity: One of the major benefits of mediation is that the process allows couples to get creative and come up with solutions that are customized to their specific needs. That said, there are times when creativity gets stifled by their presence together and they are better able to brainstorm ideas when they are separated.
  • Express Private Concerns: Caucusing allows either of the spouses to express concerns. When this happens, the mediator must remain neutral and not use anything that is said privately to favor one spouse over the other.
  • Relieve Stress: As we talked about earlier, divorce is stressful and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, we all know that individuals who are going through a divorce can have many of their stress points triggered just by the presence of their spouse. Caucusing has proved to be a very useful tool in relieving much of the stress that everyone finds themselves under.

It should be noted that caucusing can also be beneficial in virtual mediation sessions. Many couples have been using virtual mediation during the quarantine, although there is less of that happening now that things are reopening again. Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom allow participants to use separate “virtual rooms”, which are ideal for caucusing. Or, if it is just an old-fashioned three-way teleconference, the mediator can just talk on the phone privately with each participant and resume the group conference later if appropriate.

Contact AMS for In-Person or Virtual Divorce Mediation

If you are facing a divorce, mediation can be a very cost effective and low-stress solution for handling the proceeding. At AMS, we have successfully mediated divorces even in the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic. Through the use of methods like caucusing, we are able to develop solutions that are tailored to the specific needs of each couple.

We are currently offering extended hours to help those who are dealing with schedule disruptions because of the pandemic, and we are able to provide in-person or virtual mediation sessions, whichever way is most comfortable for you. Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to get started whenever you are. 

Contact us by phone or email for your free consultation. We look forward to serving you!