The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way divorce proceedings have taken place in New Jersey Family Courts, which has added a new realm of virtual possibility to the divorce process. This virtual possibility has included the newer use of virtual platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct virtual economic mediation. The purpose of economic mediation in the divorce process is to give parties a chance to take the driver’s seat in their own divorce and resolve their divorce on mutually agreeable terms prior to having a trial before a Judge in Court.
Economic Mediation has been a tool that has been used in divorce mediation well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit; however, prior to the pandemic, these were conducted in person, typically in a law office. When the pandemic hit, like most court appearances, economic mediators were forced to transition to holding mediation sessions through virtual platforms. Nonetheless, now that New Jersey has begun the process of opening back up should mediations continue through virtual platforms, in person or a mix of both? As addressed below, there are benefits to both forms that are worth consideration.
Pros of Virtual Mediation
Overall, virtual mediation has afforded many parties positive opportunities in their divorce process in the following ways:
- The Flexibility of Scheduling and Location: In many cases parties participating in economic mediation no longer must take off a full day of work to attend a mediation session. With virtual mediation, they can schedule a time that may be more flexible for their schedule. In addition, they can participate from anywhere. If a member of the family has moved out of state or is just out of state for the time being, the mediation can still be scheduled and occur to assist the case to finding a speedy resolution.
- The Cost of Virtual Mediation is Lower: Commute times are no longer necessary in the virtual realm, making parties’ attorney and mediator bills lower because they are not charged time for their attorneys or mediators to travel to attend the mediation session.
- Virtual mediation affords physical separation, which can help lessen heightened emotions: Virtual Platforms such as Zoom have Breakout Rooms, which can provide an additional comfort level where a party may feel that it is easier to be more open and honest during the process because they are not in the same room or building as the other person.
Pros of In Person Mediation
- There is extreme value in the mediator and attorneys being able to observe the parties’ body language during settlement: Many experienced mediators view the body language and interactions of the parties in a divorce mediation to determine the best ways to help the case come to a full resolution. Zoom sometimes does not afford this ability to fully capture a person’s body language and creates additional space so that the parties do not necessarily need to interact.
- In person mediation creates a more formal setting, which could lead to quicker resolution: Parties may be more likely to settle their case in one session because they were in a more formal setting. Zoom often creates an informal setting, which can create a space where there is less incentive to settle. Parties may not fully be able to understand the pros and cons of having to go through the full trial process should they not find a resolution through economic mediation. In addition, when in person, all necessary documents will be brought and in one place for all parties to have the ability to look through during mediation. Zoom does have a shared screen feature, but often times sharing smaller documents that are hard to read and understand may feel less formal than having a document in person for review.
- Technology will not get in the way: If a party’s technology is not working properly, it can drastically impact the success of the mediation. In person mediations cut the chance of unexpected issues that can arise from technology the day mediation is scheduled. In person mediations have a better flow because the mediator can have control over the flow of the settlement. If technology gets in the way, it can interrupt the flow of mediation, and could ultimately impact the parties’ ability to settle.
Ultimately, family law matters are very sensitive, and all families differ so the decision whether to participate in person or virtually for mediation will likely depend on the family attending mediation as to what is more successful for them. As briefly addressed above, there are very distinct positives and negatives to attending virtual or in person mediation. Ultimately, the pandemic expanded opportunities when virtual mediation sessions began, giving many families another avenue of opportunity to settle their divorce case before incurring the extreme costs and heavy emotions that come with going through with a divorce trial in Court.
For more information on navigating mediation in New Jersey contact the Law Office of Lyons & Associates. At the law office of Lyons & Associates, P.C., we represent parties in mediation throughout New Jersey. We place a premium on personalized service and attention. For a private consultation, contact us by e-mail, view our website at www.lyonspc.com, or call our office at 908-575-9777.
By Nicole Rohan, Esq.