The Future of Divorce Is Not in Court

The Future of Divorce Is Not in Court

If the Covid pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the way we always thought we had to do things may not be the only way. In fact, when it comes to the legal system, and in particular, family law, the old way of divorcing may not be the best way at all. The future of divorce will look very different from the past.

I believe the future of divorce is not in court. We’ve already seen a shift to Zoom hearings, and while at the start of the pandemic, it felt difficult and strange and not ideal, this necessary switch taught us that we can, in fact, find better ways to serve couples seeking to dissolve their marriages.

The future of divorce will happen outside the court room – photo by Headway on Unsplash

I don’t want to say that I’ve known this for a long time, but I have. Since I started practicing Collaborative Divorce, and as long as I’ve been a Mediator, I’ve seen firsthand that when a couple breaks up, the court system can’t look out for what’s best for them or their families.

By definition, a system needs to move people through quickly, and not necessarily efficiently or with an eye toward individual needs and circumstances. But a good attorney or legal team can.

Driven by the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution, I approach Mediation with curiosity. This approach makes me more effective when there is conflict between divorcing parties. But instead of giving direction, I have learned to ask questions.

The Insight Approach helps me educate and empower clients to help them evolve through the course of their divorce. It’s a more holistic approach, which might sound touchy-feely and hard to understand, but now I have tools to make it way more concrete.

The more I get involved in this approach, the more I see how different it is from how typical family law practitioners do divorce. From the beginning with a client, I talk to them from a place of curiosity, so their experience is going to be different from the start all the way through the completion of their divorce.

Another tool that my Transitions Legal team employs with our clients is the Our Family in Two Homes workbook, which we give to every client before they begin their divorce to help them articulate their values and goals.

If you start with their values and concerns and ask questions that help reflect on their partner’s values and concerns, you can help divorcing clients change the narrative of their past, skip the arguing part and move on to their future. Doing the work beforehand helps me guide clients to the outcome they’re happy with.

Once you know how to do divorce with these thoughtful approaches, you can’t help but use it everywhere. It’s already built into Collaborative Divorce, which by definition seeks to divorce through a team approach that brings not only the spouses to the table with their attorneys, but also with the support of a team that includes mental health professionals, certified divorce financial advisors and more when needed.

I approach each divorce case with curiosity – photo by Hasse Lossius on Unsplash

The idea of Insight is not to tell people what to do. In the moment, when they’re going through their divorce, they might want to be told, but ultimately, it’s up to the client. I know how overwhelming and futile it can feel to be going through the end of a marriage you didn’t expect to end. No one does! But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for a lawyer to make decisions for their clients.

I can make suggestions or recommendations, but if the ideas come from the clients themselves, then they’re more likely to be happy with the outcome.

There are so many stories of court-based divorces where a client agrees to settle and then comes back to the lawyer months or even years later, unhappy with the settlement. The lawyers say, “But you agreed to this.” And that may be true. Or maybe they felt exhausted and pressured to just finish the darn thing or agree in the moment, but ultimately it never aligned with what they’re most concerned about and what they value.

A court is designed to make decisions for people. To put people in positions of power to apply the law as objectively as possible.

But a divorce is anything but objective. Which is why I don’t see the future of divorce remaining in the courts.

If we want families and individuals to thrive, we must approach each divorce with curiosity and questions to guide the people involved to their ultimate best destination. Every single client is unique, with their own interests, desires and challenges. A court can’t see that, but you we can. And that’s the only way to achieve the dissolution of a marriage with concern, care and compassion for the people most affected by it.

Processing Divorce in Court during COVID… On Zoom?

Processing Divorce in Court during COVID… On Zoom?

Processing Divorce in Court during COVID… On Zoom?

It’s not news that we are in extraordinary times, with divorce court cases being held over video chat platforms like Zoom. I’ve been wondering how this experience is for clients who, for the time being, don’t have to stand in front of a judge in a hushed courtroom.

How do they hear things differently?

How is the feeling different – better or worse?

And is the judge’s ruling in a divorce case as effective from afar?

The Difference Is Big

It’s one thing to stand in the courtroom in front of a judge wearing a robe with deputies standing nearby. The formal and reserved ambience of the courtroom does not exist in a virtual experience.

Divorce on zoom
Does that mean the messages are not as strong or impactful?

From the safety of home, we are more relaxed. When a judge admonishes a client for improper behavior in a virtual hearing, is it perceived as severely?

Remote Cases Affect All Parties

Divorce on zoom

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

From a lawyer’s perspective, preparing for an evidentiary hearing and having to do a trial by Zoom is also different. We call witnesses, and they respond from their own homes or offices.

Are they reading information they would not otherwise be able to refer to if in person?

Are they texting a friend or the Jameson Law firm for help?

Body Language Is Impossible to Read in Remote Cases

The judge may hear things differently, too, unable to read the body language or pick up on certain inferences made by those present in a courtroom.

Often in family court, judges will make comments from the bench to address the parties, to send a message. I wonder, is that message as powerful while the party is sitting in an easy chair in his living room, listening without really being present?

Consider this Case Study

Divorce on zoom
As an example, not long after we were all required to stay-safe-at-home, a party filed a motion to prevent the other parent from traveling out of the country with their children – when travel out of the country was really not possible due to pandemic limitations on travel. We still don’t know when it will be possible to travel beyond our borders.

The judge looked at both parties on the virtual hearing and said, “You have to choose your battles. This is not an emergency. Nobody is going anywhere right now, so come back to me if there really is an urgency.”

The co-parents were arguing about what was essentially an irrelevant point. The judge tried to emphasize this point sternly, but I have to say, I don’t think the point sticks as much with clients when we’re relegated to video hearings.

Isn’t It Good to Revere the Judge?

In the courtroom, when a judge makes a comment from the bench, and an order is entered into the court docket, it’s a serious thing. You can feel the gravity of the situation when you’re standing there, in the windowless courtroom, with the judge seated higher than everyone, and no one else utters a word.

You stand, out of respect for the judge, and wait for him or her to respond to your motion. And what the judge says, goes.

Period.

Let’s Get Serious

I’m convinced that while the order stands and is as effective and imperative during this time as any other time, the parties don’t feel the gravity of the situation in the same way.

There is one upside to this new normal, though. In divorce cases where abuse or violence is present, not having to show up in the same physical space as your abuser is a relief for clients seeking freedom and safety from domestic abuse.

In these situations, staying in your own home while the abuser remains in another space is a gift for the victim. However, I’m not sure the abuser receives the severity of the proceedings when the judge is on a screen.

Divorce on zoom

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Does the Location of Your Divorce Case Matter?

The takeaway from all of this is that if you were planning to divorce, think about how the inability to appear in a physical courtroom will help or hinder your case.

There are non-court-based options for divorce, of course, like Collaborative Divorce or Mediation – which might be better alternatives.

If you’re looking for a divorce lawyer at this time, you might want to consider talking with a lawyer who is familiar with and practices both the court-based, litigation model and is specially trained as a mediator or Collaborative attorney – someone like me!

After all, is it worth litigating if you’re not appearing in front of a judge?

Read more about Family Law

Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

How a Jameson Law Manages a Virtual Divorce Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Read the original blog here.

In the era of COVID-19, everyone is using virtual meeting software to conduct business. However, my Collaborative Divorce colleagues and I were already doing it. 

A Case Follows Its Clients

This case began in the typical in-person format in Michigan. The husband met with me several times over nine months as he contemplated filing for divorce. Shortly after it became clear that ending the marriage was his next step, he and his wife decided to sell their home and move to another state, where two of their married children live.
virtual
It is not like any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so.

Based on my state’s laws, if my client moved to Colorado and then filed for divorce, I could not represent him.

But he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his virtual divorce. Accordingly, we filed in the state of Michigan before they moved, which relegated the case to the state where they had lived during their marriage.

Committed to the Collaborative Process

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired Collaborative Divorce attorney, Tucson divorce attorney. We created a team that included divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

virtual

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

I assumed the professionals would be together in one place, and the parties in another place, but this did not happen. For scheduling convenience, each professional joined from her own office, and our clients were in their home in different rooms.

As the case progressed, I thought it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially for a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting. As it turned out, due to the pandemic, we connected via our own shelter-in-place locations.  

Meeting Virtually

For the most part, the virtual divorce case proceeded beautifully with Zoom as our means for communication and meeting. There were drawbacks of course. For example, it was harder to take side meetings with a client or team member on Zoom. However, it was possible using the Breakout Rooms feature.

On the positive side, the Collaborative tone remained in this virtual format.

Collaborative Focuses on the Family

As usual with Collaborative Divorce, we were able to focus the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we created virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move, rather than having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan.

Another plus is that you can see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. While we cannot read the energy as we would in-person, we can still see, really close up, each face.

And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts.

Today’s technologies make it easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done.

Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for divorce law cases.

Z
Pay attention; make sure you are looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
Z
Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
Z
It is easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates confusion. Professionals should be aware of the most current privacy standards that apply to them in regards to use of this technology, specifically around recording. In addition, mental health professionals may need to determine whether their technology platform is HIPPA compliant prior to hosting or recording meetings.
Z
Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there is also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings, and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
Z
Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
Z
Plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting, especially if professionals are not in the same room. Planning is still very important.

Read more about Collaborative Divorce

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

It’s ironic that in the era of COVID-19, everyone is clamoring to use Zoom and other virtual meeting software to conduct business, because I and my colleagues in Collaborative Divorce were already doing it.

This case began in the typical in-person format in the state of Michigan, with the husband meeting with me several times over the course of nine months, as he contemplated filing for divorce. 

virtual divorce

When it became clear that ending the marriage was, indeed, his next step, he and his wife had already decided to sell their home and move to Colorado, where two of their married children live. 

It’s not like just any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so. That means if my client had moved to Colorado and then decided to file for divorce, I could not represent him, even from afar, with so many great technological tools. 

But because we had built a relationship, and he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his divorce, we strategically filed in the state of Michigan before they made their move, which relegated the case to the state in which they’d lived the duration of their marriage. 

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired a Collaborative Divorce attorney, Symantha Heath, and we pulled together a team that includes divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed up front that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

virtual divorce

I assumed the professionals would be together in one place and the parties would be together in another place, but this did not happen at first. For scheduling convenience, each professional has been in her own office and our clients are in their home, in different rooms.

My feeling as the case progressed was that it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially to guarantee we have a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting ends. As it turns out, due to public health parameters, we must connect via our own shelter-in-place locations.

For the most part, the case is proceeding beautifully with Zoom video conferencing as our means for communication and meeting.

There are drawbacks of course – for one, it’s harder to ask to take side meetings with your client or another team member when we are on Zoom but possible using the Breakout Rooms feature which I only recently learned about during an IACP call (“A Candid Conversation About Collaborative in Trying Times”). 

Prior to advancing my Zoom knowledge base, participants were asked to leave the main meeting and then texted or emailed when we were ready for the group to reconvene. There is definitely a learning curve as with all new technology. 

On the positive side, the collaborative tone stays the same in this virtual format. We can bring in professionals from anywhere – there is a mental health professional who moved to California that I used to work with all the time, and Zoom allows me to pull her in if I deem it necessary.

Also, we were able to fashion the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we were able to create virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move when they wanted to move, not having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan before they moved. That could’ve delayed their move a year or longer.

Another plus is that you can still see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. We can’t read the energy as we would in-person, but we can still see, really close up, each face. And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts, especially during these times.

Today’s technologies make it so easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done. 

virtual divorce

Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for your cases.

Z
Pay attention; make sure you are looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
Z
Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
Z
It’s easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates any confusion.
Z
Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there is also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings, and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
Z
Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
Z
Plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting, especially if professionals are not in the same room. Planning is still very important.

Read more about Collaborative Divorce

Navigating Divorce During the Coronavirus Crisis

Navigating Divorce During the Coronavirus Crisis

Navigating Divorce During the Coronavirus Crisis

coronavirus crisis

When people go through a divorce, their lives turn upside down temporarily, and it can seem like it will never end. Now, all people around the world are experiencing an unprecedented time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Already-divorced families may wonder how to navigate parenting time or other related court orders during the current shutdowns and stay-at-home initiatives. We wrote this letter for our clients to offer some guidance at this time. We look forward to connecting soon when the situation resolves!

Dear Transitions Legal clients,

During these unprecedented times, due to the COVID19 situation, you may be wondering how shutdowns, social distancing, and new initiatives every day may impact your ongoing family law case, or your existing parenting time situation. Please be assured that we at Transitions Legal are continuing to work on your case during this unsettling time, following state and federal precautions to slow the spread of the virus and maintain health.

On March 16th, we received a statement from the Michigan Supreme Court on matters concerning children in family law situations followed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Order issued on March 23rd. In short, parenting time and child support orders are to continue unencumbered during this time as much as possible.

The Stay Home, Stay Safe Order does not prohibit parents from transporting their children to the other parent’s residence to comply with custody and parenting time orders and agreements.

Coronavirus Crisis

Photo by Mesut Kaya on Unsplash

Should situations arise that make the typical parenting time challenging, or should there be a concern for the health of either parent or any of the children, there are next steps mapped out in the Supreme Court’s letter.

It is our hope that during these times especially, co-parents will come together for the health and safety of their children and reach an agreement.

coronavirus crisis
We encourage you to increase telephone and video communication where the child is not able to continue the regular parenting time. Additionally, assure each other that there will be make-up parenting time once health and medical concerns resolve.

At this time of uncertainty, it is easy to feel fearful and anxious. None of us knows how this situation will unfold or when it will resolve.

But it will resolve, and we will come through this together. If you need to talk or release any of these fears, we at Transitions Legal are here for you. Please email or call to let us know how you’re doing. In the meantime, stay well.

Read more Family Law posts