Family Law in the Time of COVID-19: Tips for Online Family Law Mediation

Online mediation (also known as Online Dispute Resolution or ODR) is a thing and its use in family cases has accelerated with Stay At Home orders and the need to self-isolate.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process of meeting with a neutral person, who is the mediator and whose role is to facilitate a structured settlement discussion.  Mediation can be voluntary, so chosen by the participants.  Or, it can be required, for example if court-ordered or required by a pre-existing settlement agreement.

The settlement discussions in mediation are confidential.  This is to encourage good faith settlement discussion, so that a participant won’t feel like an offer made at mediation could be used against him or her at trial if there is no settlement.

Mediation participants include the mediator, the parties/those who have a dispute, and potentially their attorneys.

Please click here for information about whether and when to involve an attorney in mediation

Mediation may include other participants if mutually agreed in advance.

The mediation process can take a number of forms, but usually involves a combination of settlement discussions among:

· everyone in the same room; and/or

· just one party (and their attorney, if participating) and the mediator in the same room (called caucus or breakout); and/or

· just the attorneys and the mediator in the same room.

The purpose of mediation is to reach a settlement which all parties accept.  To be final, a settlement needs to be formal, usually by a written and signed document.  For more information about preparing mediated settlement documents, please click here and here.

What is Online Mediation?

It’s mediation by video.  This allows participants who cannot be in the same place at the same time to participate in mediation from different locations at the same time.

There are various online mediation programs.  These have a variety of features that participants need to be aware of:

· Everyone can appear on the screen simultaneously;

· Breakout options so only certain participants are able to communicate via video together while other participants sit in a virtual waiting room; and,

· Online chat, which allows you to send private messages to all participants or only certain participants.

These features are then used to create a virtual mediation process that resembles the process if everyone were mediating in person.

Technical Tips To Prepare for Online Mediation:

1. Schedule mediation when you will have complete privacy.  Having others listen in or interrupt your session violates mediation confidentiality;

2. Schedule mediation when you will have no childcare or caregiving responsibilities.  Make mediation your sole focus;

3. Participate from a place where you will be able to comfortably sit and view your screen for 2+ hours;

4. Eliminate background noise and background light sources;

5. Participate where you have stable internet service.

6. If on a mobile device, make sure it’s fully charged or you can participate while it’s charging;

7. Do not audio or video record sessions or take screenshots.  This violates mediation confidentiality;

8. Disable notifications on your computer or device & enable “do not disturb” to limit interruptions;

9. Ask the mediator for his/her mediation participation agreement in advance and read it before mediation starts.  Understand any technology requirements & expectations before you start; and,

10. Have a telephone available as backup in case video fails.

Conclusion:

Video mediation is new territory for the majority of mediators, attorneys, and participating parties.  Be patient with yourself, others, and the technology.  If technical frustrations arise, they are likely not to be as frustrating as the issue mediation is meant to resolve.  Hang in there.

Online mediation offers greater accessibility and convenience.  I expect we’ll see it carry on long after we have gone back to work.  I’m pleased to offer it as part of my family law mediation services.

Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation.  Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.

Lindsay Parvis

Lindsay represents clients in both, uncontested and contested family matters. Her practice focuses on complex child custody cases. In uncontested matters, she represents clients to finalize the settlement, whether through direct negotiations or mediation. In contested matters, she represent clients in custody, divorce, support, and property litigation. In both contested and uncontested cases, she educates her clients about the process, the law, and their options, so her clients can choose the appropriate path and strategy for them.

Contact Lindsay

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