How to Resolve Your Divorce Issues Without Leaving Home
Coronavirus has impacted every facet of life, forcing us to seek out new ways of keeping the gears running to keep society moving. Divorce is already a stressful process and its complexities are only being heightened by the ensuing pandemic. Whether you are just starting the divorce process or you’ve just finished your one year separation period, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do during a time of quarantine and social distancing to move forward with your divorce. Online mediation, sometimes called e-mediation, is a new innovation which allows you to remotely mediate the terms of your divorce and settlement in a way very similar to traditional mediation. Now is an apt time to learn about online mediation and to weigh the pros and cons as they relate to your situation. Let’s start with a little background on mediation itself.
What is mediation?
Mediation is an alternative form of divorce settlement that empowers a couple to create an agreement for their divorce without court intervention. Mediation saves time and money, is confidential, and provides more flexibility than litigation. Mediating online has the possibility of providing even more efficiency and cost-saving benefits.
Mediation is often a day long discussion (or a series of discussions) conducted by a neutral third party. A couple wishing to mediate is responsible for finding a mediator to hire. Unlike judges, mediators do not make decisions but rather assist the parties as they negotiate the terms of their separation agreement. Couples are still able to hire attorneys to advise them, and it is strongly advised that you do so.
A mediator’s role is unchanged, but their approach may vary online
The exact approach to your mediation will vary based on your relationship dynamic, as well as the mediator’s style. E-mediation substitutes in-person sessions with video and teleconference calls. The mediator may tend to take a more direct, problem-solving approach in online divorce mediations than in face-to-face talks as a tactic for maintaining momentum of long-distance talks. Regardless of the forum, a mediator remains focused on facilitating compromise and producing a viable separation agreement between both spouses.
Online and in-person mediation share the same stages
The mediator will ask for background information about your marriage, such as finances, child custody plans, and any other issues you may have. After gathering the necessary information, the mediator will work with the parties to create a tailored plan outlining tasks, main issues, and a tentative timeline. With online mediation it is possible to create a checklist document on Google Drive, Dropbox, or a similar collaboration platform, in order to keep everyone on track.
Online mediation offers more efficiency
Scheduling virtual meetings is much easier than trying to find a time where the parties, attorneys, and the mediator can meet at the same physical location. You also save money by eliminating the need to rent meeting space. And because online mediators tend to take a more direct approach, it is possible to complete the entire process sooner than in-person.
Mediating online is more candid, less confrontational
Divorce brings up a lot of emotions, which may lead you to feel anxious in the presence of your ex. E-mediation reduces the amount of time you have to spend face-to-face, allowing both parties to feel more comfortable and honest during negotiations. Even more, e-mediation does not have the same reputation for posturing when compared to in-person mediation or the traditional court approach. Being allowed to stay in your home, as far from your spouse as you desire lends itself to a more relaxed and calmed mind. Additionally, because everything is online, people often feel more comfortable saying things to a spouse or about a spouse that they wouldn’t normally say if that person were in the room.
Challenges faced in online divorce mediation
Lack of in-person decorum
The increased openness and honesty that comes with long distance communication cuts both ways. The sense of comfort poses a risk of “flaming” comments – lashing out or sending insulting messages that one would not normally say in-person. The quality of negotiations may also suffer from the loss of social cues, body language, and other non-verbal aspects of communication that cannot be conveyed as easily online.
Harder to hold people accountable
Mediation only works if both parties are willing to make it work, meaning you have to show up and participate. Relationships in which one person is manipulative, hot tempered, or uncompromising creates a higher chance of complications during mediation. A disgruntled spouse could stop responding to emails or calls if they feel frustrated with how things are panning out. It is a lot easier to ignore a phone call than to skip an in-person mediation. Because of this, it is important to assess your situation to determine if you and your spouse could remain calm and engaged in an entirely virtual process.
Technology learning curve
Online platforms are still an emerging technology. There are many moving parts to any virtual meeting, from hardware to software. You will need a web enabled device with a microphone and camera, reliable internet connection, and software downloaded to video chat. On top of all that, privacy and data concerns might leave you feeling nervous discussing such personal information. It is reasonable to feel worried about your privacy, but a seasoned professional in e-mediation can guide you through the process providing resources for how to securely navigate these programs. Furthermore, many of the communication programs feature user-friendly designs and how-to guides, with customer service representatives available by phone or chat.
Programs used for online divorce mediation
There is no shortage of websites, apps, and platforms for online communication these days. Here are some of the most popular methods of communication used in online mediations.
Email has become a staple of our digital life, used for important correspondences and legal matters much like the postal service, but with speed and efficiency. When it comes to mediation, emails offer a slower pace (compared to live conversation) allowing parties to carefully craft their responses and strategy while also granting parties the convenience of participating when they are available. Email is a secure way of sending documents between parties during mediation.
Texting provides the same flexibility in response time and opportunity for thoughtful replies, in a less formal mode. Texting is not the most efficient form of communication when multiple parties are involved, attachments are needed, or when there is a lot to say. Texting is also a valuable way to have sidebar conversations with your attorney during meditation sessions.
Phone calls (One-on-One and Teleconferencing)
The telephone has stood the test of time, serving as a reliable method of communication without all the bells and whistles. It is much easier to hop on a call than to set up a video conference, and you can get more of your message across in a shorter span of time when compared to writing emails or texts. You might rely on phone calls as the cornerstone of your mediation, but it is not ideal to make major life decisions without ever seeing one another face-to-face. This is where videoconferencing comes in.
Even if you could reach an agreement through email and phone calls alone, there is value in face-to-face communication, which makes it worth including videoconferencing the mix. Video calls are the closest to an in-person mediation you could get, affording you the best chance of observing non-verbal cues, conveying tone, and reducing the risk of misunderstanding which affects email and texting so frequently.
Skype, Zoom, Apple FaceTime, Google Hangout, Facebook chat, and WhatsApp video calls are the most popular video call programs, but there are probably hundreds more. These top options offer the most in terms of ability, privacy, and quality. These programs are free to use, with one-on-one capabilities as well as group calls. Most programs have robust security systems in place including end-to-end encryption. Your online mediator can advise you on which platform is best for your situation. These programs accommodate a range of devices, from desktops to phones to tablets and almost everything in-between.
We have experienced several different approaches to online sessions. The most effective strategy for mediation by video call is to treat it like a regular mediation, where the video call is the “room”. While the mediator is in the room with you and your attorney, your spouse “leaves the room” by muting the computer and walking away, and then you “leave the room” so your spouse and attorney can work with the mediator. Smaller group conversations could take place over the phone before, after, or even during the main video conference call as needed.
Lastly, online mediation still requires physical paperwork. If you need to get a document notarized there are mobile notary services available online or you can always go to your local bank. Just remember to practice social distancing and stay safe. The parties could scan and send final document for signatures, and follow up with the required notarization when the mediation concludes.
Online divorce mediation isn’t for everyone, but it is worth considering
E-mediation is not going to be an ideal fit for everyone but the advantages make it worth considering. Being able to negotiate the terms of your divorce agreement remotely allows you to save money, maintain control, and speak with candor and openness. While it feels like much of the world has come to a standstill, online mediation is an option for couples who wish to keep moving forward with their divorce. The courts are often overbooked; courts are not hearing routine domestic matters during the the COVID crisis. Once the courts do re-open, tremendous backlogs are expected for months. If you are interested in online mediation, reach out to your attorney today. This might be a great time to move forward.