COVID-19 & Mediation: From the Stresses of Space Sharing to Changing a Parenting Schedule, Mediation Can HelpRead Now
Even the strongest relationships are being tested in these uncertain times. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from families who are juggling home-schooling children while working from home; divorced parents who are trying to navigate a safe way to maintain a court-ordered parenting plan; business owners anxious about how to plan for the future; and I’ve heard from parents working on the front-line and have had to isolate themselves from their children. These stresses have emotional and frequently financial implications. For example, if you cannot have space to work from home, you risk losing your job or income. Or, what happens to child support if you place your child with a safe relative so you can work? Mediation offers a place to talk and work through these issues.
How Does Mediation Work When You Can’t Meet Face-to-Face?
A mediator can meet with you either through Zoom or by phone. The mediator’s job is to facilitate communication; to take a situation where people are stuck and to help them build a way out, a plan to move forward.
I can mediate discrete issues such as:
Step one is giving me a call or shooting me an email. By the way, mediation is totally confidential.
Is It Legally Binding?
Yes, a mediated agreement can often be binding if that is what you would like. For example, a contract can be drawn up that you both sign virtually. Or it can be an informal agreement that you both commit to. Written agreements between separated parents are often filed in court and enforceable. I can help with this.
For Couples, Is Mediation the Same as Counseling?
Mediation is different than couples counseling. Mediation tends to be a more short term process to address an immediate or urgent concern. It is based on dispute resolution techniques and principles of fairness and neutrality. It does not go on a deep dive of your relationship history or mental health, and is not a “treatment.” Rather, it is aimed at improving communication and reducing misunderstanding to help build concrete resolutions or plans.
Is it Expensive?
Mediation is less expensive than, say, going to court. But it isn’t free. There are a range of professionals and organizations doing mediation in the Pioneer Valley with a range of fees. While lawyers are the most expensive, there are other professionals and even mediation non-profits offering lower and sliding scale rates. A good resource is to check MCFM (the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation) or Mediate.com for a suitable professional.
During the COVID-19 crisis, I am offering a flat rate of $200 for a one to two hour initial mediation session. (My usual rate is $260 per hour.)
Who am I?
I’m a lawyer and a mediator based in Northampton, MA. I’ve worked with families for over twenty years helping to resolve issues between spouses, between friends, between co-workers, between businesses and between family members. I am also an adjunct professor of mediation at the Western New England School of Law. In my personal life, I’m a parent, cyclist and enjoy the outdoors (and have taking more time to do so these past few weeks!) but sure do miss going to the cafes and restaurants in our area.
By the way, mediators do not have to be lawyers. But being a lawyer helps when it comes to identifying complicated legal issues and drafting agreements. Other professionals (like mental health professionals) can bring their own unique skills to mediation.
Have You Ever Seen Anything Like This Before?
In my 20 years practicing law, the answer is “No.” However, the level of disruption seems to me to be comparable the aftereffects of 9/11. At that time, I was living in Boston. For me, like everyone, the months after 9/11 were full of uncertainty which I struggled with. I remember constantly looking at the news to try to make sense of things. Today, while I’m trying to moderate my news consumption, I am adapting to this temporary situation. Like others, I am grieving for the losses and disruption this virus has caused. (There is an interesting article naming the feeling we are having as grief here.) My mediation practice is adapting to helping people in this new climate. (My online mediation tools and practice skills have had to grow.) Because I also teach mediation, I keep thinking about how these changes will be useful teaching tools but that they also demonstrate what is so great about mediation: whether online or in person, mediation gives people a fair place to work things out when they’re feeling stuck. It delivers concrete results.
Mediation can be a helpful resource to help resolve sources of conflict and tension generated by the current COVID-19 situation.
Devlin Farmer is a family law lawyer and mediator based in Northampton, MA.