Although still operating, the current coronavirus has slowed things down at the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. The court is currently operating following the guidelines as set by the Probate and Family Court Standing Order 2-20: Court operations under the exigent circumstances created by COVID-19. Basically, this means the court will only address emergency matters. Whenever possible, it will use phone calls or video conferencing. Where these methods are not possible, the court will delay hearings until it deems it safe to return to normal operations within the courthouse.
What does this mean for divorce?
Those who are going through a contentious divorce or otherwise unable to resolve the matter without litigation can continue with the discovery portion of the proceeding. Both parties can gather evidence and build their case but are unlikely to move forward with a court hearing until after June.
This provides another reason for those going through a divorce to consider alternative dispute resolution options. One example: mediation.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a legal process that allows completion of a divorce without going into the courts. This process uses a neutral third person, known as the mediator, to guide negotiations between both parties. This can include identifying and discussing issues such as property division or child custody agreements as well as helping develop problem solving techniques. Once a compromise is made, both parties can sign off on a proposed settlement. Once a judge signs this settlement, it is legally enforceable settlement.
Mediation can be conducted via videoconferencing, allowing all parties to respect social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Additional benefits include a reduction in the amount of time it takes to finalize the divorce, which leads to a lower overall cost.
The mediation process can also include specialists like financial advisers and parent coordinators. This can allow even complex matters to move forward with mediation.
Is mediation right for me?
There is no easy answer. If you believe you and your future ex can navigate negotiations with the help of a mediator, mediation is an efficient, enforceable and private alternative to traditional litigation.