Family Law During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Resolving Conflict When Courts Are Closed

woman on laptop computer for video conference

Over the past few days, we have experienced a world that is closing down around us. If you are in the midst of a divorce or custody dispute, you may be feeling extra stress, because your relationship problems have not stopped. Maybe you are not divorcing but are experiencing marital conflict. Your relationships may be further stressed by the restrictions on your ability to have space from one another outside of the home. Presently in Pennsylvania, due to coronavirus restrictions, most court functions are closed or severely restricted. (barring emergency, please see below). You may have a pending case in court and have learned that your court date has been canceled and will need to be rescheduled, at some unknown point in the future. Nevertheless, you have problems that need to be addressed now.

If you find your family problem is not something that a court can address during the coronavirus restrictions, but you need assistance now, there are other ways you can have your problem addressed. Issues involving marital discord, divorce, custody and financial support can all be addressed in alternative dispute resolution processes.

Process Options For Resolving Disputes Outside of Court

MEDIATION: Mediation is a way of resolving disputes in which spouses or parents work with a neutral person (a mediator) to talk through areas of disagreement. The mediator helps facilitate and manage difficult discussions to find a resolution that is acceptable to those who are in dispute. Mediation is a voluntary process, and thus Mediators do not have “power” to make a decision for you, but they have many tools and skills in negotiation and can help you develop options that may solve your problem. Mediators in this regard could be a trained mental health professional, a financial advisor or an attorney.

When an agreement is reached, the mediator will prepare a written document that outlines the terms that have been agreed upon. Those “term sheets” as they are sometimes called, can be given to an attorney for a written contract to be prepared, which, once signed by both parties, is legally binding. When court orders are required, the attorney can also prepare the orders, and have them processed through the court. In custody matters, sometimes a more informal document is prepared, known as a parenting plan, when the parents feel they may not need a more formal contract.

COLLABORATIVE LAW: Collaborative law is another option for resolving your family dispute. Collaborative law implements a customized, family-centered process, to resolve disputes respectfully and efficiently, without ever going to court. Collaboration requires that each person retain a Collaborative Attorney. A Participation Agreement is signed which defines the terms of the resolution process and sets some basic ground rules. Collaborative process is focused on helping clients identify their interest and goals and then options are generated which attempt to meet those identified interests and goals. In essence, instead of attorneys fighting one another in court, attorneys work together as a team, for the specific purpose of reaching an agreement that meets the needs of all family members. Sometimes a mental health professional or a financial professional is also included on the team, to assist with emotional matters, special needs of the children, and/or complex financial matters.

Once agreements are reached, the attorneys will work together to prepare a written agreement/contract or court orders (when necessary) to confirm the terms of your agreement in writing, which is enforceable if a party does not act in compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution Processes

There are several benefits to choosing an out-of-court process to resolve your family law dispute including:

(1) it allows you to have your problem professionally addressed now, through remote technology or even by phone, even when you are in lock-down in your home.

(2) it could take less time for your problem to be solved;

(3) it could cost less financially;

(4) it allows you to be more in control of the outcome;

(5) it allows for creative solutions to difficult problems;

(6) it minimizes the impact on children;

(7) co-parenting relationships can be strengthened; and

(8) privacy can be maintained.

** If you are experiencing violence in the home, feel unsafe or you have an emergency custody situation, there are limited Court resources available for those purposes. Contact an attorney for more information. For the Pittsburgh area, if you and your children feel unsafe, other 24-hour help is available at Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh (877) 338-8255; Crisis Center North (866)782-0911; Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center (888) 299-4673 or Center for Victims (866) 644-2882

Author:
Liberty J. Weyandt, Esquire leads the Family Law Practice at The Lynch Law Group. She is dedicated to assisting clients who are seeking solutions to complex family law and estate planning matters. In addition to traditional litigation experience, Liberty is also a trained Collaborative Law attorney and Mediator. Liberty is accepting clients during the Coronavirus Pandemic and can provide services remotely to ensure the health and safety of all involved. Please contact Liberty at (724) 776-8000 or lweyandt@lynchlaw-group.com if you would like to discuss process options for resolving your family dispute.
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