We are facing unprecedented times that are impacting every area of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the family courts closing for everything except emergency proceedings, leaving many couples wondering if they can still move forward with their divorce, or if they have to put it on hold.
If you are choosing to go the route of traditional litigation, your divorce is likely to be delayed for several weeks or perhaps months because of the coronavirus situation. Fortunately, there are alternative processes that will allow you to proceed with your divorce even while the courts are limiting cases,
One such alternative that has become increasingly popular in recent years is divorce mediation. With mediation, you can resolve all of the outstanding issues that would be necessary to reach a settlement, and the settlement can become legally binding even without the final court hearing. This allows couples to finalize everything and be in a position to move forward with their lives when everything gets back to normal.
The Benefits of Divorce Mediation
In recent years, a growing number of couples have realized the numerous benefits that divorce mediation can provide. The process is far less expensive than a court trial, and it can be completed much sooner. But aside from the cost and time savings, perhaps an even more important benefit is the ability to resolve your divorce in a cooperative rather than competitive setting.
Mediation sessions are facilitated by a neutral, third-party mediator whose goal is to guide the conversation toward win-win resolutions. And although the mediator guides the conversation, the participants are in full control of the outcome. In other words, nothing can ever become legally binding unless both spouses agree to it.
The flexibility and control that mediation offers allows couples to get creative and come up with more customized solutions that fit their individual situation. This is very difficult to do in a court setting, because the courts have many other cases to get to and they tend to favor “one-size-fits-all” solutions that do not take a lot of time to develop. The ability to work together on their divorce also helps preserve delicate family relationships, which is especially important when there are children involved.
Another thing that is particularly beneficial about mediation during the coronavirus pandemic is the ability to conduct remote sessions. At Advanced Mediation Solutions, we have provided virtual mediation for many years, and we have the ability to connect participants by phone or videoconference from wherever they are, so we can all observe the social distancing guidelines laid out by our federal, state, and local governments.
What Happens when Mediation is Over?
For most couples, it will take approximately four mediation sessions to resolve all of the underlying issues and finalize the divorce. If you have a more complicated situation, such as significant and unique assets that need to be divided, children with special needs, or a military divorce, then more time may be required. We can also bring other experts into the conversation when needed to help with their particular area of specialty. Examples include CPAs, financial planners, and child psychologists.
Once everything has been agreed to and the mediation is completed, we work with attorneys (or the attorneys for the participants if they have them) to create a legal agreement. In New Jersey, this is known as a Marital Settlement Agreement, and in Pennsylvania, it is known as a Property Settlement Agreement. Once the spouses sign the agreement, it becomes legally binding.
It is important to note that mediation can also be used for couples who are separating and not getting a divorce at this time to develop a separation agreement. A separation agreement can address most of the same issues as a divorce, such as child custody and parenting plans, spousal support, and division of property. It is always best to have a formal agreement when you separate so that your interests and the interests of your children are fully protected.
Finally, we want to stress again that these are unprecedented times, and there is additional flexibility to create temporary arrangements to help families get through this. For example, you may have a parenting plan that worked great for everyone just a few short weeks ago, but now it has to be completely revised. In such cases, it would make sense to create an interim agreement that fully addresses your current circumstances.
We are Here for You
We know that this is a tough time for a lot of families, and we are here to help in any way we can. Of course, we are all working remotely now, but we are also offering customized and extended hours as well as free consultations to make things as convenient for you as possible. Feel free to contact us any time to schedule your complimentary consultation. We look forward to serving you!