Mediation is a cost-effective dispute resolution process that allows couples to reach an agreement they have control over, rather than going to court and giving that control to a judge. Many courts in Texas require mediation before a final hearing. In traditional Texas family law mediations, each client is in a room with his or her attorney and the mediator “shuttles” between the rooms, taking offers and information back and forth. The mediator doesn’t represent either party but is invested in tailoring an agreement that meets the couples’ joint and individual goals and will offer settlement advice to get the parties to a “deal.” But now, in light of COVID-19 and social distancing, how is mediation being handled?
Online mediation is similar to face-to-face mediation. The difference is you can participate in mediation from your home through the use of video conferencing technology. Communication is achieved through synchronous or asynchronous dialogue between the mediator, the lawyers, and the couple. Two clients, their two attorneys and their mediator/arbitrator, can conference in from five separate locations. With online mediation, each attorney-client pair can have their own private virtual “room,” just as in in-person mediations. The mediator can virtually shuttle back and forth or bring everyone together for a joint session. The mediator can control who can see and hear each other, and you can see and interact with your mediator and your lawyer in the comfort of your own space.
As far as the actual Mediated Settlement Agreement, editable documents, including Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, can be shared by sharing screens. The mediator can make changes to the spreadsheet and body of the MSA by sharing his or her screen in real-time, just like you were in the room together. At the end of a mediation these can be memorialized as pdf documents and signed using a program such as DocuSign, so there is nothing to prevent the execution of the Agreement in real-time. Also, since confidentiality is a hallmark of mediation, the Zoom platform has a HIPAA compliant option for mediators to use to keep HIPAA-protected information secure.
At GoransonBain Ausley we have experienced and trained mediators that can provide online mediations. Additionally, all GoransonBain Ausley attorneys have the knowledge and training to represent our clients in online mediation.
Virtual Notaries for Our Clients
Paralegals associated with each office have virtual notary certificates and capabilities to enable clients to sign and have notarized documents from home or remotely. The client only needs a computer with a webcam.
Court reporters and videographers have adapted their capabilities to offer remote depositions with the only requirement that parties have an internet connection to use other video conferencing software and a computer with a camera and microphone. The court reporter and/or videographer can swear in the witness, record the deposition according to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and handle deposition exhibits. GoransonBain Ausley attorneys have the knowledge and capability to facilitate and take depositions using virtual technologies.
Remote Hearings and Trials
Many courts across Texas are beginning to allow remote hearings and trials. Our attorneys have the knowledge and capability to conduct remote hearings and trials via video conferencing, including the handling and admitting of exhibits and offering testimony.
Private judges are also a resource that parties can use to resolve their family law dispute. Many private judges are offering their services, either in-person at a private office or using video conferencing technology. The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows parties to use private judges in civil matters if both parties and attorneys agree. Upon the filing of an agreed motion of the parties, the court assigned to your case will issue an order that a private judge will hear the case and stay the matter in the assigned court, pending the outcome of the hearing conducted by the private judge. Private judges have all of the same powers as a district judge in Texas, and once the private judge issues a decision – that decision is final and binding and stands as if it were issued by the district court judge. Either party will still have the right to appeal through the Texas Court of Appeals.