Online Mediation Is A Great Alternative
Online mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method that has been around for a while, but has been widely used over the last several months. Mediators take their strengths and skills in mediation and use an online platform to allow them to offer mediation bringing greater access to a much broader population. I am a family law and divorce attorney in Texas. I was investigating online mediation and online mediation tools before Coronavirus restrictions changed our world. When the restrictions and quarantine began, I knew it was the perfect time to take the training and signed up for training with nationally known online mediator and attorney Susan Guthrie, through her Learn to Mediate Online training. In my short time conducting online mediations since then, I’ve had the opportunity to use those things I learned and my experiences and create some tips to help you make the most of your online mediation.
Choose the Right Mediator
Your family law or divorce mediation session may start at a set time on a particular day, but your mediation actually begins long before that time. Mediators for family law and divorce cases are many and varied. In Texas, family law and divorce mediators come with varied backgrounds, education and experience including practicing attorneys who mediate and have active cases, retired judges who mediate exclusively, attorneys who mediate exclusively as well as other trained professionals who may mediate specific issues or specific parts of cases.
When choosing your mediator, discuss your mediator preferences and options with your attorney. In Texas, most mediators have transitioned to using an online mediation platform, and they may have platform options available as well. We are all familiar with Zoom since our respective quarantines began, but there are other platforms available that your mediators may offer. If alternative online mediation platforms are offered, talk them over with your attorney. Areas for discussion with your attorney can include the attorney’s use and experience with each platform, your experience or use with each platform, any particular requirements for the platforms, and, any special options with the platforms (for example, breakout rooms and virtual backgrounds.)
Take Full Advantage of Your Mediator’s Process
Once you’ve chosen and confirmed your mediator, take full advantage of all the materials provided by and requested by your mediator. As an experienced family law mediator, I have created rules and best practice tips and information for my mediation clients through years of mediating and using mediation with my clients. I’ve created an entirely new group of best practice tips for online mediations to help answer questions and make the mediation process as good as it can be for both the attorneys and their clients, or private clients without attorneys to assist them. If your mediator or attorney provide you with tips and rules, be sure to read through them. They will likely give you a good place to start in understanding what will happen on your mediation day.
If your mediator requests copies of pleadings, negotiation status information or other documents send what you have or can get to your mediator. If you are working with your attorney, provide anything that your attorney may need from you so that your attorney can send the information on to the mediator.
As mediators, we request the documents and information to allow us to get ‘up to speed’ on your case before the mediation day. It gives us your case’s backstory without using your mediation session time.
Schedule Your Premediation Conference
I offer premediation conferences before the scheduled mediation date for both client only mediations and attorney and client mediations once an online mediation has been scheduled with me. The credit for this idea goes to Susan Guthrie and Learn to Mediate Online training. I’ve found that it makes a wonderful difference to the online mediation experience. Not everyone has taken me up on the offer. And, I have found that the premediation conference makes a difference to the start of the online mediation session. The premediation conference is a bit of a practice run for the technology, getting to know what the online platform looks like and getting to know what I look like and sound like as well.
So, if your online mediator offers a premediation conference, make sure to schedule your premediation conference.
Prepare for the Mediation
You might be thinking, haven’t I been reading about how to prepare for the mediation through this entire post. Well, yes and no.
You also need to prepare yourself and your case for mediation. You may need to consider some hard questions in your case, and the time to do it is before mediation. In Texas, it is not unusual to schedule one full-day mediation session to conclude a divorce. It can be physically and emotionally draining to consider the answers to difficult questions in the midst of making other decisions. It can lead to frustration, even in a mediation that is working towards an agreement.
Make sure you have current and up to date information provided to your attorney regarding your case including information about your children, property, debts, liabilities, account balances, retirement account information, and investment account information. Make sure that you know how you will access any needed online information on the day of mediation.
If you have an attorney and have questions about the law and the application to your case or facts, be sure to meet with your attorney before the mediation day to get your answers so that you can consider the answers with your goals. There will be many decisions being made on the mediation day, and it can become overwhelming to try to understand the issue and decide the issue at the same time. Discuss with your attorney or your mediator the logistics for the day of mediation including where each of you will be. Will you be in your attorney’s office, in your office, in your home? Where will your mediator be? Where will the other side be?
Take a few moments to think about your personal logistics as well. A few things to plan for might be special dietary needs, children, or an aging parent who may need additional care, your location restrictions. And, ask your online mediator or attorney how and when you will eat lunch or take a needed break.
Jill O’Connell is a divorce attorney and family lawyer who has focused on helping people and helping families throughout her career. She started in Arizona and continued her career in Texas. Jill is also licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court. She is a trained family law mediator, mediates privately and volunteers to mediate with the Denton County Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (DCAP).
Jill is a member of the Texas Bar College, Denton County Bar Association, and the Texas Bar Foundation. She is a past president of the Denton County Bar Association.
Jill can be found at https://oconnellfirm.com
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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
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