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“Zoom" ing into a new era in Texas family law cases

Unless you've been living under a rock, which at this point may be the recommendation from the government, you have likely noticed that our world has changed a significant degree over the past 12 to 13 months. While many of these changes are likely not going to be permanent we have had to make do with different ways to live our lives in many restrictions on the things that we believed to be the most important. Our ability to see and spend time with loved ones, travel, attend in-person events, and even go to the park with our children has been limited due to restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

In addition to there being a real live pandemic on our hands, we have also suffered from the mental side of the pandemic as far as the restrictions that have been put in place in the fear that many of us have developed over the past year. The difficult thing about a respiratory virus is you cannot see it impact our lives and make changes for us. So, unless you or a family member had gotten sick over the past year then you may not have even noticed the impact that the coronavirus has had in our lives. As a result, much of our concern over issues related to the virus are mental rather than physical. 

Now that there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the pandemic is concerned we can start to think about returning to more normal circumstances. One of the interesting conversations that I have with family and friends is what aspects of the pandemic will we take with us as we move forward in life in which aspects will be ready to leave behind? These are the big questions that we as a society and more locally here in the Houston area will begin to ask ourselves. As much as most of us want to get back to our normal lives there will undoubtedly be some transition inherent in this process. 

One of the most notable changes to our lives over the past year has been an emphasis on interpersonal communication done over the Internet. When I think back on all the difficulties that we have encountered aside from sickness from the virus itself I can't help but think how much more difficult life would have been without the Internet. Whether it is on laptops, desktop computers, or cell phones we have to use technology to a great extent to perform basic tasks. Even my 83-year-old grandmother how to figure out how to communicate with her doctors using virtual appointments on the computer. 

Ubiquitous with the idea of using the Internet to communicate face to face with other people during this pandemic has been the zoom call. Zoom calls are essentially using your computer or phone's camera to relay a video feed to another group of people with whom you are having a meeting. For example, instead of having to join up with coworkers in a conference room or meeting room, someone could set up a zoom meeting wherein all parties could appear and exchange ideas and provide updates on projects or the goings-on at work. This has made coordinating projects and things of that nature much simpler as we had to deal with limitations on how often or how close we could come into contact with others during the pandemic. 

Zoom and its influence within family law 

These zoom meetings and zoom calls have impacted the world of family law, as well. Family law attorneys have utilized technology to our benefit for many years but have had to rely on even more so during this era of social distancing. In today's blog post I would like to share with you my thoughts on how the world of family law has taken advantage of Zoom to conduct business and accomplish client goals despite the challenges of the pandemic. I will also share my thoughts on how these technologies may be incorporated into the world of family law permanently as we begin to shift out of these pandemic times and into more stable and normal times. 

Need to talk to a family law attorney? Log on so you don't have to buckle up 

In the great battle between doing nothing and doing something, I am a big believer in most people's desire to do something being overtaken by the status quo. Meaning, if you know that you need to go run an errand or do something for work you are much more likely to procrastinate until something becomes essential. We see this happen in the world of family law when people just like you delay learning more about the divorce process because it is more comfortable to do nothing. 

I like to think of it like this: staying in a bad marriage rather than getting a divorce is similar to a baby staying in their dirty diaper. If you'll pardon the somewhat stinky comparison, staying in a bad marriage may smell bad at times and maybe uncomfortable but it's your mess and you're familiar with it. There is some discomfort to having change occur in your life. Any parent who has changed a few thousand diapers knows exactly what I'm talking about. A baby cries when they have a dirty diaper but will sometimes cry even more when you try to change it. 

Us grownups are not too different from the baby who wants nothing more than comfort and security. Even if you are convinced that you will someday need a divorce the reality is that you may have been putting off the conversation with an experienced family law attorney because even your bad marriage is more comfortable than the idea of ending it. Then last year when the pandemic hit you had even more of a reason to stay inside and not seek counsel about this very important subject. After all: we were told that we were being patriotic by staying home and staying safe. 

However, as a generation that takes advantage of technology more than any other before our own, we've also come to find out that not being able to meet with someone in person is no excuse for a business not getting done. Rather, being able to meet with an attorney using zoom is one of the most widely used applications of technology by our attorneys here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. The truth is we were using zoom-like technologies for virtual consultations long before COVID-19. However, utilizing this technology became a necessity as in-person meetings were not possible or desirable for most people last year. 

It is an absolute necessity to speak to multiple family law attorneys before beginning a divorce or child custody case. You can only hire one attorney to represent you in your divorce or child custody case but you want to be able to get the impression of an opinion of multiple attorneys before beginning your case. As a result, you should maximize your time and seek out consultations with attorneys whenever and wherever you can. That used to mean getting in your car is driving around Houston to speak with attorneys. 

However, given the technology available to us using programs like zoom we can avoid jumping in the car and can perform these operations at home using only an Internet connection. Speaking to an experienced family law attorney has to be one of the most essential steps you should undertake before beginning your divorce for the child custody case. Different attorneys will tell you different things about your case. Different attorneys will charge you different amounts representing your period all of these are important bits of information together before jumping into a contested family law case. 

Don't get me wrong: our attorneys are more than happy to talk with you in person, over the phone, or using zoom. We know that some people are more comfortable using different types of technology and others want to be able to meet with us face to face. We want you to know that we are available using any of these mediums to get to know you better and to provide you with information about family law in Texas. However, zoom as functioned very well for our office and our clients both during the consultative process and during a family law case itself. 

Using Zoom to attend mediation 

mediation is probably the most useful tool in the family law attorney's toolbox. Mediation is a process whereby you and your attorney, your spouse, and their attorney, and an experienced mediator will get together at the mediator's office to see if a settlement can be reached on any number of issues that are outstanding in your divorce or child custody case. Mediation has proved to be so successful in the vast majority of family law cases where it is attempted that just about every family law court I am familiar with in Southeast Texas requires that you and your opposing party attempt mediation at least once before a trial can be held. 

Typically and historically, mediation is held in person at the mediator's office. In a way, this is an ideal setup for mediation because it forces everyone to be focused on a singular task. We literally cannot be in more than one place at a time and so when you are at a mediator's office attending mediation you are forced to focus on the task at hand to a certain extent. It is also nice to be able to talk with your attorney and get to know him or her even better than you did previously. The interesting part about family law cases is that there are times during your case where it is very quiet and you and your attorney may not have seen each other in person for many weeks. Mediation allows both of you 2 acclimate yourselves to one another again and prepare, if necessary, for a trial. 

For obvious reasons, last year people were not all that excited to attend mediation in person. As a result, attorneys in mediators had to become more flexible when it comes to being able to utilize virtual services like zoom to get mediation done. To an extent, this was a fairly big departure from normal mechanisms as far as holding mediation. Many agreements immediate would mandate that all parties be present for mediation to occur. This meant that unless you were serving overseas in the military you would need to fly in or ask very nicely of the opposing party to be able to attend by phone or by the virtual conference. 

Since mediation is so critical to the success of a family law case there wasn't a better option last year and for much of this year than conducting the process using zoom. From a time perspective, this was something that everyone could get behind. The fact is that everyone involved in a family law case is busy: you, your opposing party, the attorneys, and the mediator. Nobody was going to complain about being able to do a mediation from your office or home. This makes me believe that virtual mediations are here to stay even as we begin to transition back into a period of normalcy. 

But that said, communication is not easier over a computer than it is in person. I say this as an older millennial and someone who is used to leaning heavily on technology as a means to accomplish goals related to work. So much can be lost in translation when it comes to virtual conferences in mediations. As a result, I have always emphasized to clients that we need to be as prepared as we can be before mediation being held over a zoom. It was always important to be prepared when it comes to mediation but this applies doubly now that more and more mediation appointments are being held over the computer. 

However, just because your opposing party may want to hold mediation over zoom does not mean that you necessarily have to agree to it. While a preference resume may have held sway during the pandemic the further we get from the pandemic the less and fewer concerns over illness in sickness become when it comes to doing things in person. There will be more important issues for you to face in your case but this is still one where you will need to work closely with your opposing party to coordinate your efforts and to make sure that both of you have an opportunity to make the most out of your opportunities to mediate the case. 

Using Zoom to answer discovery requests 

this is one of the more advantageous ways to use technology as far as I'm concerned. Discovery requests are typically sent out by both parties to a family law case in the period either leading up to temporary orders hearing or immediately after. He will be asked to answer questions, provide information and documents regarding your family's lowercase. This way, both sides will understand the arguments of the other party and will be better prepared to begin negotiations for final orders.

With that said, discovery can be one of the more tedious aspects of a family law case. Many questions and requests for information proffered by the other side can be objected to based on certain legal principles and grounds. Other times, even when you do have to turn over information there are certain tools of the trade to utilize when responding. The ability for a law office to communicate to their client how to best respond to these questions can lead to disagreements and discrepancies. 

However, using zoom parties and their attorneys can coordinate their efforts much better regarding answering discovery requests. You and your attorney should be looking to utilize technology as much as possible especially in the areas where it can offer you the most benefit. Rather than having your time be taken up by going to your attorney's office to answer discovery requests you can simply log on to the Internet and meet with your attorney and their staff to answer these requests for information. 

Again, zoom offers advantages when it comes to communication where phone meetings leave something to be desired. Being able to see it person's face and your voice more clearly makes a somewhat tedious process more palatable for everyone involved. I am not an expert at interpersonal communication but I believe something significant is lost when you cannot see the other person's face while communicating with him or her. Zoom saves you time and invariably will save you money if it can help you avoid making mistakes in the area of responding to discovery requests. 

Questions about the material presented in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about the changing circumstances your family may encounter by filing a divorce or child custody case. 

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