As we adjust to “stay-at-home” orders in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we are all learning how to utilize technology to continue our work and our lives when we are not able to be physically present in the world. Online mediation, which has been gaining popularity in recent years, is a dispute resolution process that utilizes online video conferencing platforms to allow parties and a neutral mediator to “meet” remotely for sessions.
Online mediation makes traditional mediation services more accessible. During the current COVID-19 crisis, online divorce mediation services have become especially helpful to parties seeking to resolve their divorce now, allowing them to continue the process from the safety of their own homes. But online divorce mediation will have staying power even beyond the coronavirus. As discussed below, there are many benefits to mediating online that make it an excellent option for resolving family law disputes now and in the future.
There are a number of benefits to online mediation:
Social Distancing is Built In
National, state, and local governmental authorities have mandated social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19. Because parties to online mediation join their session remotely, there are no issues regarding compliance with these orders. When you, the other party, and the mediator are physically separated while being connected online, there is no risk of contracting the virus.
Mediation Fills the Gap for Case Resolution When Access to Courts is Limited
Courts across the country continue to announce closures and hearings and trials are being continued to unknown future dates due to COVID-19. Without access to the courts, what are family law litigants to do? If you decide to proceed with the adversarial process of litigating in court, you may be forced to stand by for an unknown amount of time for your matter to be heard and adjudicated. Some issues can’t be put on hold that long – family conflict does not “pause” for pandemics. Online mediation fills the gap by providing an immediate option in the short term. From the safety of your home, you and your spouse can meet with a mediator online and attempt to resolve your disputes now.
COVID-19 aside, the online mediation process has a number of advantages that make it an excellent option for resolving the terms of your divorce.
Parties Can Mediate from Anywhere
Not being able to leave your house during the COVID-19 crisis is one thing. But what if your soon-to-be-ex moved out of town? Or out of the country? Or what if one of you is ill or disabled? Geographical distance is no barrier to online mediation, which can be conducted from any location, so long as the parties have access to a computer and a secure Wi-Fi connection.
Moreover, for online mediation, you are able to choose your immediate physical surroundings and connect from there. You can create a safe, comfortable space. Many parties choose to mediate from their own home, which provides a sense of security and familiarity that can bolster their confidence and engagement during the mediation.
Convenience of Scheduling Saves Time and Money
When parties and the mediator meet in person, scheduling a session can become a chore. They have to consider not only the scheduled mediation time, but also travel logistics including the estimated time to travel, traffic conditions, where to park, etc. When everyone meets virtually online, these are no longer considerations. You need only to set aside the specific time for each online mediation session and can connect virtually from any private location that is convenient for you.
The connect-from-anywhere nature of mediation also saves you money. You can take less time off work (if you need to at all) and will have less need to coordinate additional child care, since you can more easily schedule the mediation around your work and children’s schedules.
The Right Amount of Distance Levels the Playing Field and Ensures Safety of Parties
The physical distance coupled with the virtual connection that is inherent in online mediation can be a huge benefit to divorcing parties. When parties are physically in the same room, their old patterns and dynamics may emerge more readily, which can negatively affect communication and negotiation.
During an online mediation, however, the virtual distance inherent in the process provides a buffer that makes it more difficult for parties to fall back into their old dynamics. The online forum allows each party the equal opportunity to express themselves and makes them accountable for advocating for themselves without complications that could arise in the physical presence of the other. It is harder for the parties to speak over or interrupt each other – they quickly learn that their attempt to do so ensures that neither of them is heard because the virtual connection can only capture and relay one person speaking at a time.
And what if a party is afraid of conflict escalating to physical violence in the presence of their spouse? Online mediation allows parties to separately remain in safe, undisclosed locations. This means parties can think more clearly without a looming fear of a physical altercation.
Further, just like in traditional mediation, online mediation allows for caucusing by utilizing virtual meeting rooms so parties are able to meet separately with the mediator if need be.
Collaborative Experts Can Easily Participate
If you are considering collaborating with other professionals during your divorce process, such as financial or mental health professionals, another benefit of online mediation is that these professionals can join online mediation sessions quickly and easily, for a whole session or for only those issues relevant to their expertise. For example, if you have consulted with a financial professional to assist in valuing and dividing community assets, they can join the online mediation session for the specific issue of property division so the parties, the financial professional, and the mediator can evaluate all options together in real time. This again saves you time and money and helps you reach resolution more quickly; you are not hindered by the professional’s ability to attend in person or the costs associated with an in-person meeting.
Documents Can be Shared and Edited Instantaneously
When you are sitting in front of your computer mediating online, you are already set up to review and edit documents with the other party and meditator instantaneously. Using the screen sharing function of the online video conferencing platform, parties and the mediator can review documents together line by line, point by point, with everyone on the same page at the same time. This leads to more efficient document review and thus quicker resolution of your divorce.
Consider online mediation to move forward with your divorce now while you are at staying at home in compliance with COVID-19 orders. And beyond that, know that online mediation is available as an option for you to resolve the terms of your divorce in a manner that is convenient, cost-effective, efficient, and promotive of a healthy and empowered settlement process.