With the pressures of our current economic and health challenges, adding more fuel to the fire when a marriage falls apart can make the load feel unbearable. One alternative to the cost, time and contentious nature of a litigated divorce is mediation. Maryland couples have access to resources and information that promote the use of mediation services through the state’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO).
Given the current situation, some may question how the core tenets of mediation, which are to create connection and common ground through in-person conferencing, can be achieved in a virtual setting. An examination of the use of a virtual platform in mediation may reveal hidden advantages.
The surprising benefits of a virtual format for mediation
Early assessments of video conferencing in mediations have been positive. One of the primary advantages of virtual mediation is convenience. As the participants do not have to find the time to travel to a city center, a mediation session does not have to take a half or full day. And if the clients live in separate cities, this is especially convenient.
Flexibility is key in a virtual mediation. Shorter sessions can focus on separate but pressing issues, such as spousal or temporary child support or custody orders, parent plans or property division issues. These sessions are also effective in dealing with interim issues or for narrowing points of contention between parties.
Facilitating comfort and connection
Video conferencing can be challenging, especially when there is a bad connection or audio feedback or when a group member does not understand the technology being used. With an initial trial run between the clients and their attorneys, as well as the pre-mediation orientation with the mediator, all parties can work through both these challenges and the structure of the sessions.
As a hallmark of mediation is confidentiality, attorneys should guarantee that the video conferencing format provides HIPPA-compliant privacy and encryption methods. Although recording options can be disabled, the attorneys have a duty to inform their clients that other participants may be recording a session with another device.
The success of the mediation depends on the mediator’s ability to build rapport and trust, and to work through contentious issues. Because of this, the virtual format may fall short unless all parties are invested in the process. Above all, it is important to have a skilled and experienced divorce mediator at the table. While it is too early to tell, early positive outcomes may make virtual mediation a standard option in the future.