Settling Your Divorce, A Guide to Mediating Virtually

Months into the novel COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced to come to terms with a new understanding of normality. This understanding persists in the legal field. Courthouse functions and mediation, like most activities we are accustomed to participating in life, have moved to virtual formats. GoransonBain Ausley Plano Attorney Ryan Bauerle, in this video, provides a step-by-step insight into what the Zoom mediation process will look like and what parties should expect going in. Additionally, Ryan covers effective ways to prepare prior to your virtual mediation as well as other helpful tips such as how to deal with “zoom fatigue.”

Learn More About Ryan Bauerle

Ryan Bauerle practices family law out of a commitment to achieving fair and equitable outcomes, while also preserving as much financial stability for clients and their children as possible.

Excelling in contested custody matters, Ryan finds work with families and children especially meaningful. He brings compassion and experience to situations involving special needs, mental health issues, and substance abuse. He makes sure his clients always know what the “next step” is, and strives to alleviate their anxieties so they can focus on what is important.

Ryan is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. The Board Certification process is rigorous and thorough with stringent, ongoing requirements after initial certification.

Hello. My name is Ryan Bauerle and I’m an attorney at GoransonBain Ausley. I’m board certified in family law and 100% of my practice is [inaudible 00:00:11]. The topic for today’s family law advisor video podcast is about Zoom mediations which have become the new normal during the COVID pandemic. We have a background. Courts are beginning to expect that mediations just have to occur virtually. The fact that some attorneys may or may not be familiar with the Zoom process is simply no longer acceptable. This sort of thing’s been going on for several months now. The process has become much more streamlined and everybody’s getting a little bit used to it. Most attorneys have used Zoom mediations before. It is incredibly common for court proceedings to be solely via Zoom and the Supreme Court of Texas has advised us to largely proceed that way. You’ll also find that many attorneys and clients prefer Zoom as a way to keep costs down and cut down on travel expenses.

The way the process works is that each party and their attorney are separated into their own separate rooms via Zoom, and that is no different than if you’re in an in-person meeting. And what the mediator will do is, they will set it up so that neither party can see or interact with the other party or the attorney unless, for some reason, it’s necessary to do, which would be highly unlikely. So what will happen is the mediator will segregate one party and their attorney in one room, the same thing with the other, and the mediator will pop back in each room until…or as needed. Additionally, if it’s necessary, the attorneys can be pulled by the mediator into their own separate room in case something needs to be clarified without the clients present.

If an agreement is reached, an MSA, or a Mediated Settlement Agreement, signed by all parties, their attorneys, and usually the mediator, an MSA is irrevocable once signed. So not even the judge has the power to change a binding Mediated Settlement Agreement. As far as getting that specific document signed, typically what I’m seeing is people use something like DocuSign in order…a way to get everybody to sign off the same document [inaudible 00:02:21]. That way you don’t have to…avoid the issue of having to scan and send it back [inaudible 00:02:26] deal with all the hassle there.

As far as preparation goes, that is no different than any ordinary mediation. So, leading up to it, the attorney should be with their client a couple of times before, and the attorney should provide the mediator, usually at least three days in advance, any pertinent pleadings, settlement offers, inventory and appraisements, professional evaluations, if they’ve been conducted in that case. That way, the mediator has the opportunity to go through, do their homework, and figure out where the rub is, and try and narrow down what the contested issues may be. Furthermore, the more information you can provide the mediator beforehand, the more efficient the mediation process will be. Usually the first round is the longest, and the more that we can provide the mediator to do their job before the mediation ever starts, the better. As far as Zoom in particular, if the client is just unfamiliar with the process, doing a dry run is usually a good idea.

Attire? Treat it the same way you would for a mediation, professionally, but comfortable. So business casual is usually appropriate. A suit is fine, but not necessary. One thing to remember is to keep the optics in mind. So try and avoid windows or wire or anything that would interfere with the mediator’s ability to see the other party. The same rule applies for the attorney.

As far as just other tips or things to remember, we’ve come to understand that Zoom fatigue is real, and mediation, even under normal circumstances, can be a little bit of a brain drain. So again, the same rules would apply. Take a break. Get a glass of water. Walk around. Grab something to eat. Keep snacks handy. These are all sorts of things we would recommend under normal circumstances, and sometimes it is exacerbated with Zoom. The good thing about Zoom, though, is because everybody’s on their computers, and usually remotely, they can turn it off. They can go do something else, because there is often a lot of downtime in any mediation. And just some clients find that by turning off the feature where you can see your own reflection, sometimes that actually cuts down on Zoom fatigue. The jury’s still out on that one, but it’s certainly worth a try.

Hopefully, that provides some good insight on what to expect in any Zoom mediation. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact GoransonBain Ausley in one of our Texas offices.

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