And It’s the Perfect Time to Mediate Your Family Law Case.
By Deborah Dilman
The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has, to say the least, caused disruption in the legal world, not to mention ordinary, everyday life for all citizens. Even at our firm, we have begun working remotely for the indefinite future. I know many of you have likely done the same. With those and other changes to the court system, you may be reassessing your cases, deciding what should be prioritized/re-prioritized, and contemplating a moving forward in a different path for your practice than you would have expected even just a month ago.
With that said, I did want to reach out to my fellow family lawyers and, invoking the spirit of Jonathan Swift, make a modest proposal: now is actually the perfect time to consider mediating your family law case.
Before you throw this paper out or, worse yet, decide to use it in place of the toilet paper you can no long find at the store, hear me out as to why you should be lining up to mediate:
1. You’re not getting a hearing, and maybe for a very long time. As you’re aware, court hearings have been postponed for at least 30 days. Given the public health situation, it’s very likely those hearings will get pushed out even further. Once we return to the “new” normal—whatever and whenever that is—there will be a backlog of hearings. Anything that’s already been postponed previously will likely get precedent over yours.
What does that mean? If you want to keep your cases moving forward, mediation is the best way. Even if it’s just one issue that gets mediated, at least that issue may be resolved, which allows the case to move forward once normal court proceedings return.
2. You can keep the case, or at least some aspects of the case, moving forward. Mediation may or may not solve all the issues in your case. Irrespective, it has the chance to solve some of them, which will save the clients time and money in the future. Also, even if all issues don’t resolve, some may, and those might lead to future resolutions.
3. Remote mediation is the new luxury. In normal face-to-face mediations, there’s a pressure to “wrap this up today!” And that’s understandable: the clients have likely taken the day off from work, the attorneys have ventured to a third-party site with binders and other paperwork, and there’s usually an impending deadline.
None of those pressures are present now. Indeed, with remote mediation (which is currently required for court-ordered mediations), the mediation can be done over a longer period, including a few hours at a time over a period of days or weeks. With most people working remotely and likely better able to manage their personal/work schedules, time constraints are not as big a factor. It’s easier to disband/reassemble over a period of days or weeks by simply clicking on the computer. This will allow for more thoughtful resolutions and, where necessary, better cooling-down periods between parties.
Also, costs aren’t increased because the mediator is only billing for his/her time and that time via a teleconference or video conference might only be 30 minutes or an hour a day. There certainly are advantages to being face-to-face, but given the high tensions that usually accompany family law matters, being remote may present a more fruitful environment for a resolution.
4. You’re going to have to do this anyway; why not now? Mediation does not settle every case. But family court rules provide that every case must at some point get mediated. While courts are closed, it makes perfect sense to get this part of the process over. If it works, great! The case is settled and the client is happy. If it doesn’t work, then you’ve checked the box and you can tell the court no further mediation is necessary.
5. The lesson of toilet paper. One final thought: knowing how the public has reacted to the COVID-19 crisis, if you had it to do over again, would you have likely gone out and stocked up on toilet paper a month ago? I think most of us would have, in order to beat the rush and uncertainty.
Let’s apply that same logic to your mediation. When the legal business gets back to full swing, there will be a backlog of mediations. Taking care of this now means you’re not standing in line later when it’s crowded and supply is limited.
As always, I’m available to discuss any mediation questions you have, including strategizing for any upcoming mediations that you have with other mediators. I can be reached at email@example.com or (704) 919-1519.