Divorce mediation is normally best done in person. However, sometimes meeting in person either isn’t desired by one or both spouses or isn’t feasible. The current stay-at-home phase of the COVID-19 pandemic prevents in-person mediation meetings. Online divorce mediation can then be a good alternative.
There is nothing in a divorce mediation that can’t be done online via videoconferencing, email and texting. I always give couples a free initial consultation and this can be done via videoconferencing. Mediation sessions can all be done via videoconferencing. Data can be gathered and the evolving divorce agreement document can be reviewed and finalized via email and videoconferencing. Scheduling is often best done via texting.
There are even some benefits to online divorce mediation. Travel time is eliminated and there is increased flexibility for scheduling meetings.
Also, a spouse may feel more comfortable and confident if he/she is not in the physical presence of the other. As a result, they may be more effective in the mediation sessions.
Face-to-face mediation is problematic (and often not appropriate) if there has been abuse in the marriage. Mediating online may be the only practical way for these couples to mediate their divorce and realize mediation’s many benefits.
So what is better about in-person divorce mediation? Here are some of the main things:
- The mediator can better assess the moment-to-moment communication and interpersonal dynamics of a mediation session and respond to what is happening more effectively.
- The spouses often gain insight from hearing and feeling very directly what the other is saying and feeling. This can result in more empathy which facilitates coming up with agreements.
- The negotiation required in divorce mediation is often easier and more effective when done face-to-face in the physical presence of a neutral third party (the divorce mediator).
- The spouses have no distractions. They can be fully present for the mediation session without anything else attracting their attention. This facilitates progress and inhibits either spouse from disengaging from the process. Often the mediation can be completed in fewer meetings.
Online Divorce Mediation Adjustments
Here are some adjustments that can be made to increase the effectiveness of divorce mediation virtual meetings:
- Agree together up front the maximum duration of each meeting. Usually this will be 90 minutes or less.
- Agree that everyone will take all reasonable measures to eliminate outside disturbances and distractions. During the meeting everyone will focus exclusively on the meeting.
- Make each meeting feel to all participants like a live, real conversation in which progress is made on important matters. This is mainly the responsibility of the mediator but the spouses should be on board.
- On sticky issues that resist resolution when meeting online all together, it may be productive for the mediator to have virtual meetings with each spouse and perhaps to act as a go-between.
- Agree that if anyone becomes restless or has any other problem with a mediation session, that person (including the mediator) will raise the matter for discussion in the session as soon as is appropriate.