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Virtual mediations in Texas in a post COVID-19 world

Whether we like to admit it or not, there will inevitably be changes that occur in our world as we deal with the effects of COVID-19. Nobody can say for certain how long the virus will be with us or whether or not there will be multiple instances of people getting sick in large numbers, but the fact remains that we will need to take precautions and change our habits to an extent during this time period. There are certainly groups of people who need to be more vigilant about their health and safety. 

For this reason, the term social distancing has become very popular in our everyday vocabulary. The infectious disease experts have determined that this is the most effective manner of reducing the spread of COVID-19. Again, we do not know how effective it is or whether or not it will be something that will be a part of our lives for months or years to come. However, over the past Three months we have been told endlessly about its benefits and about how necessary it is to protect ourselves and each other. At this stage in the game it is clear that most people, out of caution, prefer to maintain a certain social distance from one another while we attempt to figure out just how infectious and deadly this virus is. 

In our everyday lives we have seen the extent to which businesses are willing to accommodate these experts and the public in changing how their business model operates. For example, we saw restaurants act is very willing partners in the social distance movement as they began to offer curbside pickup and delivery rather than dine in options. Grocery stores and big box home improvement stores slapped circular stickers on the ground informing you of the importance of social distancing. Once a person does something enough times it becomes a habit. At this stage I don't think it is unfair to say that social distancing is a habit for most of us. 

The courts in Southeast Texas and throughout the United States have been more than happy to cooperate with this desire to social distance. We saw courts closed their doors to most business in the middle of March. Harris County, where the city of Houston is located, stopped jury trials almost immediately and has yet to announce a date where jury trials will begin again. This has caused a great deal of upheaval in the legal community as attorneys, judges, and their Staffs attempt to reorder themselves in a way that can be productive during this pandemic. 

What steps have attorneys taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus? 

I can only speak for our law office, but I can tell you that we have taken steps to help keep our community, our clients, and our staff as healthy as possible during this time. If you have come to our website with any regularity, then you know that we have only recently begun 2 bring our staff back into the office and to have free of charge consultations for clients in the office as well. For months, we held only virtual consultations where you had the ability to meet and talk with an attorney over the phone or via videoconference. 

We understand that the world doesn't stop just because of a virus. Family law matters impact every area of your life and whether or not you want to deal with the problem the fact is that the problem will persist until you do. For that reason, we have done everything we can to make information available to you on our blog and to make ourselves available in as safe a manner as possible through these virtual consultations. We hope to have done our part to keep everyone safe and to continue our mission of advocating for the families of Southeast Texas. 

All the time that people have gained during this lockdown could be used for productive ends or could be frittered away towards no end in particular. We are encouraging our clients to remain safe but to work with the opposing party in their case to see if A settlement may be reached in their case sooner rather than later. Sometimes all it takes is a worldwide viral pandemic to help people understand that a long and drawn out family law case is not in their best interest. We stand by and advocate for our clients in any courtroom appearances they may have and in negotiations with opposing counsel. 

A large part of a family law case is the settlement negotiation process. A vast majority of family law cases never see the inside of a courtroom, but rather settle outside of court either in informal settlement negotiation or through formal mediation sessions. For the most part, mediation is held in person at the office of an experienced family law mediator. As with other areas of the legal world family law mediators have had to change their business practices during the pandemic as well. Today, we will discuss how virtual mediations can benefit you and your family during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mediation can help you avoid long and drawn out family law disputes

Anyone who has ever been involved in a family law case can tell you that mediation can act as a practical and less expensive alternative to going through a drawn-out courtroom battle. A key part of benefiting from mediation is a basic understanding of what it is, how it works and what if any changes have occurred in the area of mediation since the pandemic has started. That is where we will begin today's blog post. 

Simply put, mediation is a legal process where a third party, and hopefully experienced mediator will help you and your opposing party find middle ground in your family law case and will help to spur a settlement between the two of you. The mediator does not represent you nor does he represent your opposing party. He is an independent party who is likely also a practicing family law attorney. With the assistance of your own attorneys you and your opposing party will mutually select a mediator to help assist in your case. 

Most of the time parties to family law cases will voluntarily agree to mediate their case. You can ask any family law attorney and he or she will tell you that mediation is a rather routine part of any family law case, be it a divorce, child custody case, modification or enforcement matter. Your own attorney may be a mediator on other cases that do not involve his or her clients. Mediation is very effective at helping parties avoid the uncertainties, expenses and unpleasantness that can come about in a courtroom. 

Family court judges will oftentimes order parties to attend mediation prior to allowing them to have a temporary orders hearing or final trial. Judges understand that the complexity an emotional baggage that comes along with the family law case is likely better suited for a mediators trained hand rather than a courtroom. The fact is a judge will never know your case better than you or your spouse. You all are better equipped to arrive at fair and equitable solutions to your problems than a judge would be. 

When you become involved in a family law case you should ask your attorney or look up on your courts website and see whether or not mediation is required by your judge. For the most part, in Southeast Texas judges do require mediation prior to a contested hearing regarding custody. Some judges will even order parties back to mediation if they are unable to settle Their case on the first time that they attend mediation. 

Of course, your individual circumstances may vary from what I'm telling you right now. I think it is safe to say, however, that mediation is a process that you will become very familiar with during the course of your family law case in Texas. This is true now and in the future. I don't see anything changing about this despite any longstanding or permanent changes that we see in the legal profession after COVID-19. 

What are the benefits of mediation? 

So far, I've spent some time telling you how great mediation is for clients in attorneys alike. Now I would like to share with you the specific benefits of mediation that I think you will be exposed to during your case. 

When you get past all the specific issues that are relevant to your family, I think the issue that most people are concerned with is cost. I have never had a client who has never been concerned with the cost of their family law case. It doesn't matter what family law matter you are contesting, and it does not matter how much money you make. 

The simple fact is nobody wants to spend more money in their family law case and then they have to. Many people are willing and able to spend a great deal of money to pursue their case. Many people have very little money to pursue a family law case. whatever your circumstance may be, I want you to know that mediation stands as a tried and true method for decreasing case costs. 

A good rule of thumb for you to keep in mind as you enter the world of family law is that the longer your case lasts the more expensive it will become. The reason is that family law attorneys billed by the hour period yes, your attorney will likely ask you for a retainer fee initially in your case. This retainer fee acts as a down payment and secures the lawyer services for you throughout the case. However, family law attorneys also bill by the hour after that. This means that the more work that the attorney has to do and the more time he or she spends on your case the more money you will be paying to that attorney. 

Phone calls to opposing counsel, drafting documents to be filed in court and eventually appearances in court all mean added expense to your case. While some family law cases will require this degree of intervention by your attorney many can be settled with much less in the way of financial expenditure. As we have already established in the world of Texas family law time equals money the more time you save the more money you save. mediation is the perfect solution to this double-edged problem. 

Finally, mediation also offers you and your opposing party an opportunity to avoid the crowds in court and to remain safe and sound at home. Many family law mediators in Southeast Texas offer virtual mediations where you your opposing party and your attorneys can all appear virtually over a computer screen. I don't want this blog post to act as a advertisement for any particular company but I'm sure we're all familiar with the various businesses who provide virtual meetings for people. You've likely been a part of one or two since this pandemic has started. 

These virtual mediations offer you safety from the virus and privacy by being able to consult with your attorney in a confidential manner. The mediator is able to toggle their attention between you and your lawyer and your opposing party and their attorney. Mediators have a great deal of experience and can help both sides to see that each other have common goals in that a trip to the courthouse likely is not necessary. 

Questions about Texas family law during the pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan stands ready to assist you and your family during this time and anytime in the future. If you have questions about the world of Texas family law or about this blog post in particular, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week. These consultations can be had in person, over the phone or via video. 

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