The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has upended everything, including the legal process. With parties unable to head straight to the courthouse, parties have had to take advantage of Zoom conferences with attorneys and each other to work out issues. Online mediation has become much more appreciated. Kids can interact with parents more readily through FaceTime. Will these changes become permanent fixtures?
Physical custody time via Skype cannot be considered the same as in-person time, and it is highly unlikely that courts will equate the two after the pandemic recedes. However, the ease with which parents have used virtual custody time does present some solutions to some problems. For example, in a high conflict divorce, while the litigation is ongoing and before the divorce becomes final, children may not want to move from the marital residence to some location that is not fully suitable for an overnight. It also may not be close in proximity to the marital residence. In an effort to ease the children into a different household setup but still keep some roots in the present home, parents could use virtual custody as a compromise. If the parent at the marital residence recedes into the background for several hours and the kids engage with the other parent virtually, even doing homework together or watching a program together, it could result in less stress for the children and ironically more actual time for the other parent when the court might otherwise have given that parent only one day or two days a week. As another example, parents under supervised visitation orders have had extreme difficulty getting a supervisor approved during the pandemic. Using the virtual custody scenario allows that parent to continue the relationship with the child in a safe environment, perhaps even under the guidance of a therapist.
Technology certainly can improve the use of mediation. As lawyers and clients get used to this form of participation, it can be a great tool to deploy in conflicts quickly to avoid a lengthier problem. For instance, if the parents disagree about a weekend scheduling problem, rather than calling lawyers and having to file motions, the parties could simply have an on-demand Zoom session with their mediator and resolve the matter in a more relaxed manner. Also, in negotiating a divorce, if parties who would normally cringe staying in the same room together could appear virtually, mediation might work for parties who otherwise would not have been good candidates for mediation.
Technology can also help parents who may travel frequently or live in different states and need to have a court appearance. Rather than expend the sums needed for travel, they could save money and appear virtually.
These are just a few of the possibilities that our comfort level with technology could bring once the pandemic is gone.
If you have questions about technology and divorce during COVID-19, contact us – we can help.