The coronavirus pandemic and social distancing protocols mandated by state and county governments have forced us to explore new ways to assist clients with legal issues related to separation and divorce, custody and support. The challenges of COVID-19 have thrust Zoom and other video conferencing platforms into the spotlight as a promising new tool for online dispute resolution.
The Collaborative Alternative to a Courtroom
Alternative dispute resolution methods for family law matters include mediation, binding arbitration and collaborative law. A Mediator is a neutral party who helps the parties negotiate with each other and make their own decisions. The process is economical, because the cost of the mediator is split between the parties, and it gives the parties more control over the legal process. The confidentiality of mediation prevents private information from ever reaching a courtroom.
Arbitration is a process where the parties choose a neutral arbitrator to make decisions for them instead of a judge. The arbitration is conducted like a trial and the arbitrator’s award is usually final.
Collaborative law is a legal process which allows parties to work with their own individual attorneys and sometimes other professionals to resolve their legal issues without court intervention. This process allows the parties to have control of the timing and outcome of their divorce, custody or support process.
Conflict & Dispute Resolution Via Video Platform
Assuming the parties have access to the internet, a smart phone or computer, online dispute resolution is much more convenient and economical than appearing in court. Parties willing to use online dispute resolution are motivated to work towards resolution instead of spending months waiting for a court date. Zoom and other video platforms allow parties to be present in the same room or step away into breakout rooms if the need arises.
Resolve & Modify Parenting Plans
To give some examples, “Kim”, a mother of 2 children, was a party to a Custody Order entered several years ago. Circumstances changed and she wanted to modify the terms. I invited “Kim”, the children’s father and his attorney to a Zoom meeting to discuss terms which would meet the parties’ needs going forward. The collaborative effort of the parties and their attorneys enabled them to resolve the custody issue virtually and without court intervention.
Prepare and Review Marital Settlements
Many couples have contacted our office since quarantine seeking a mediated divorce. We encourage these parties to prepare and forward via email an Inventory of marital assets and liabilities, a parenting plan (if applicable) and copies of current earnings prior to the initial Zoom mediation. If parties respect the integrity of the process and are transparent about assets and income, we are able to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding, Custody Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement for review after a fee Zoom mediations, which the parties can then review with their attorneys.
The “New Normal” for Divorce
Online dispute resolution, whether the process is Mediation, Arbitration or Collaborative Law, is more convenient, less expensive and more efficient than traditional litigation. The use of video conferencing has proven effective to assist couples during this period of isolation reach a peaceful and inexpensive resolution in whichever way works for them and their families and may become our new “normal”.
About Rochelle Bobman
Rochelle Bobman, a court-appointed Mediator in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery and Chester Counties, practices family law with Bort Law. She is a member of the Collaborative Law Professionals of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Collaborative Law and Mediation Committees of the Montgomery Bar Association. She has extensive experience in divorce matters and custody often representing parents in dependency and involuntary termination matters.