Shelter-in-place orders in response to Covid-19 have impacted family law matters, such as divorce and custody battles, in a myriad of ways. In fact, the protective measures put in place by Governor Abbott’s “stay-at-home” order have slowed non-emergency contested litigation in Collin County family law cases—making now a great time to consider filing suit or moving your existing case forward.

You may be asking yourself: “When the Courts are offering few settings, now is a good time to file my divorce?” The answer is maybe, depending on your unique circumstances.

Family law matters can still move forward, even while you (and your attorneys) are all confined to home. Resolution can still be achieved through informal settlement conferences, binding arbitration, and mediation. (By the way, mediation is strongly encouraged and maybe even required in nearly all family law cases, with the exception of cases where the Court finds family violence has occurred. [See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 6.602(d), 153.0071(f).].

What is mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation allows family law litigants to reach binding agreements—both temporary and final—outside of court. Many people feel empowered by the mediation process by having an instrumental role in shaping their own agreement. Others feel safer staying out of court. If your case does not have family violence or other matters involving safety, resolving your case outside of court in an amicable way might be the right option for you.

Mediation At Home

Videoconferencing and the ability to obtain digital signatures aid mediators in moving forward remotely, with very little difference between mediating in person and mediating virtually.

In a virtual mediation, each party is placed in a virtual room shared by that party’s attorney (if any). The mediator goes between each virtual room, carrying offers back and forth and, as appropriate, playing devil’s advocate to move parties towards an agreement. If an agreement is reached in mediation, it is reduced to writing in a document called a “Mediated Settlement Agreement”. The Texas Supreme Court has interpreted applicable laws to mean this agreement is binding, with very few exceptions. The parties and their attorneys (if any) then electronically sign the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

Although this agreement still needs to be reduced to a final order to be signed by a judge, a Mediated Settlement Agreement settling all issues effectively resolves the case.

If you’re looking to get a family matter resolved, ask your attorney today for a virtual mediation. COVID-19 may have halted many aspects of your life, but it doesn’t have to stop you from moving on.

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