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!

Co-Parenting Challenges During the Summer of COVID-19

Co-Parenting Challenges During the Summer of COVID-19

This summer is presenting challenges that we have never faced before. With the COVID-19 pandemic still upon us, our summer options are much more limited, and this is causing a lot of scheduling disruptions. For couples who are separated or divorced and co-parenting children, this season is likely to be particularly stressful as they try to balance work and their kids in the midst of numerous schedule changes.

Depending on where you live, you are likely to run into a lot of cancellations this summer. Many beaches, parks, resorts, and summer camps are closed, and many people are still apprehensive about getting on an airplane with the threat of the coronavirus still looming. This means a lot of vacations and summer activities for the children are getting canceled, which means that kids will probably be spending a lot more time at home. 

At the same time, a lot of parents are heading back to the office or wherever their workplace happens to be, so they may run into a lot of challenges trying to get someone to watch the kids. In any other year, grandparents would usually make good babysitters, but this year, we need to take every precaution to protect those who are aging or infirmed. The bottom line is that in a lot of cases, just about everything they had worked out for the summer will need to be changed.

Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Cooperation 

We know that these are unprecedented times, and they are hard on everybody. No one asked for this pandemic, and this is not anybody’s fault (or at least it’s not the fault of the other parent or anyone in your immediate circle). This situation calls for patience, flexibility, and a lot of grace.

As you deal with the difficulties of co-parenting in the midst of a global pandemic, this would be a good time for parents who are having scheduling challenges to extend an olive branch to each other and work together. By being flexible and working together now, it can go a long way toward building a stronger relationship in which effective communication is a centerpiece.  

Communicate with the other parent, be open and honest about the issues you are facing, and try to come up with a workable alternative for the summer months and even into the fall (in the event that we face a second wave of this virus). Get creative and if you possible, have fun with the process. 

This situation is far from ideal for everyone involved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make something good come out of it. Perhaps a change in your regular summer routine is an opportunity to start something new that could eventually become a family tradition. You never know what might come out of this if you innovate and maintain a positive attitude.

AMS is Here to Help

During the summer of COVID-19, co-parents should work together as much as possible to resolve scheduling difficulties. If you are unable to do it successfully on your own, however, help is just a phone call or email away. At Advanced Mediation Solutions, we have helped numerous couples with creative co-parenting solutions over the years, and we are available to serve your needs.

We are currently offering extended hours to accommodate major scheduling changes, and we provide in-person mediation sessions or virtual mediation via teleconferencing or videoconferencing, whichever you prefer. Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to get started whenever you need us.

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

New Directive Clears the Way for Smoother NJ Divorce Mediations

New Directive Clears the Way for Smoother NJ Divorce Mediations

In recent years, divorce mediation has become an increasingly preferred option for spouses who want to get a divorce without having to go through the combative and costly litigation process. But a recent directive will make the mediation process even easier. New Jersey Family Court Directive 18-20 is titled Entry of Default and Uncontested Dissolution Judgments Without Personal Appearances. This directive allows New Jersey divorces to be completed without a personal appearance in court in the following two circumstances:

  • Default cases in which one spouse has filed for divorce or termination and the other spouse has not responded (after being properly notified); and
  • Uncontested divorces in which both spouses want the divorce or termination and they both agree on all issues between them.

This is a major development within the NJ family courts, because it allows divorces or terminations that are done through mediation to be finalized without the need for a personal court appearance. Under the previous rules, the “plaintiff” in a mediated divorce (the spouse who officially files the divorce complaint) had to appear in court after the mediation sessions were completed to get the final judgment approved. 

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, these non-emergency court appearances in New Jersey have been done through Zoom videoconferences. With this new directive, an appearance is no longer required as long as it is a default or uncontested divorce. 

Are Mediated Divorces Uncontested?

The short answer to that question is absolutely “yes”. You might enter divorce mediation disagreeing with your spouse on some issues, and you may even have some fairly large disagreements. When mediation is complete, you will have a final settlement at the end of the process that both of you agree on. 

Along the way, it might require up to a handful of sessions for you and your spouse to work out your differences. However, as long as both of you are able and willing to work together in good faith and compromise on some things, there is a 99.9% chance of that divorce mediation will produce a workable agreement. 

If you and your spouse are able to use mediation to settle your divorce, your marriage can be dissolved at a fraction of what it would cost to battle it out in court. The process is also private and confidential, and unlike a litigated divorce, what is said during the mediation sessions stays between participants and does not become part of the public court record.

As New Jersey and the rest of America continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to mediate a divorce and not make a court appearance can allow couples to complete the process much more quickly. Right now, for couples who are in the middle of litigation or looking to litigate, there is a significant backlog in cases, and going this route is going to take even longer than it usually does.

In the midst of coronavirus outbreak, Directive 18 – 20 has made divorce mediation is an even more attractive option, because the timing of the process from start to finish will now be greatly reduced. As summer is just getting started, this is especially helpful for couples who want to complete their divorce before the school year starts next fall.

AMS Provides “Touchless” Divorce Mediation

COVID-19 has changed our society in numerous ways, and most of us now offer virtual solutions when possible to help maintain social distancing guidelines and slow the spread of the virus. At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have provided virtual mediation via teleconferencing or videoconferencing for several years now, and we are well equipped to conduct divorce mediation in any way that you feel comfortable. Under the new state guidelines we are also taking in person appointments for mediation while maintaining social distance.

We are currently making it even easier for you by offering extended hours to help accommodate those who have experienced major schedule disruptions because of the pandemic. Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to help whenever you need us. To get started, message us online or contact us today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!

Options for Moving Forward with a Divorce during the COVID-19 Crisis

Options for Moving Forward with a Divorce during the COVID-19 Crisis

Many couples who may have been planning for a divorce or were in the middle of one, now feel stuck during this pandemic. Roseann Vanella, Professional Mediator and Founder of Advanced Mediation Solutions explains how to use divorce mediation in order to be able to move forward with your divorce.

She is joined by Diana C. Schimmel, Esq. & Partner at MKS&S, P.A in offering her expertise on how to legalize your agreement at the completion of divorce mediation and move on to filing with the courts.

Mediation allows couples to have the decision making power to be able to move on and make the important decisions that will effect not only their lives but the lives of their families.