When resolving divorce-related matters, alternative dispute resolution is often more effective than litigation. Mediation has been uniquely beneficial in light of Covid-19 court modifications. Maricopa County Family Court judges only mandate the process for cases involving children, but they recommend it for all family court issues.

While we wait for the Family Court to resume its normal operations, mediation remains the most viable forum for moving your case forward. The original Covid-19 Pandemic modification order recommended that mediations proceed “telephonically.” Attorneys and clients have since found that the Zoom platform is a successful alternative.

What is Zoom?

While nearly everyone in every state was under a stay-at-home order, Zoom virtual gatherings became the go-to alternative to face-to-face meetings. In April, Zoom founder Eric S Yuan announced that the platform increased its reach from 10 million daily users in December 2019 to 200 million by March 2020. That was largely due to the number of employees, college students, and school children working from home during the e pandemic.

You can access a Zoom virtual meeting via Apple, Android, Chrome, or iOS operating systems. You reach the platform by clicking a link shared via text message or email. Once you’re in a meeting, on-screen features allow users to chat or share relevant documents. Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, and other companies have software that offers similar meeting experiences.

Virtual ADR

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution forum for couples who prefer to reach an agreement without litigation. A trained mediator listens to each side and encourages discussion. Participants address child support, alimony, property division, child custody, child visitation, and other divorce-related issues. While the process doesn’t always resolve pending issues, it facilitates communication. It often opens the door to more productive negotiation.

In pre-Covid-19 mediation, you, your spouse, and your legal representatives would meet in a neutral setting. Zoom accomplishes the process virtually. It allows you and your spouse, a mediator, and your legal representatives to interact while maintaining a social distance. Until the courts restore their normal schedule, Zoom is helping to resolve cases that would otherwise have been put on hold.

What About Privacy?

Zoom and similar platforms have changed the way Americans participate and interact. It allows people to do their jobs and schoolwork without leaving home. Families and organizations connect through Zoom social gatherings. It’s an innovative communication tool, but many people have encountered personal privacy issues.

Parental Privacy

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, children are always at home instead of in school or in someone else’s care. As participants often disclose details that young children shouldn’t hear, it presents a privacy challenge for parents. You could resolve the problem by accessing a meeting from a different room or asking a trusted, properly-masked relative to supervise your children. A mediator could schedule periodic breaks for parents to check on their children.

Face-to-Face Anxiety

If the idea of extended screen-time with your estranged spouse makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious, Zoom offers several coping options. The mediator can set up breakout sessions for separate conversations in private “rooms.” To prevent accidental or intentional access, they can “lock” your room. The mediator can also mute one or all participants in a group session.

As a participant, you may take a break by muting your own audio. If you prefer to be heard and not seen, you can turn off your camera for a few minutes. Depending on how you registered for the session, other participants will see a photo or a blank space instead of your live face. While you’re muted or off-camera, you can still hear the session leader. You may also stay engaged by sending chat messages to an individual or to the group.

Zoom Isn’t Appropriate for Domestic Violence Cases

If you have domestic violence concerns, Zoom is not the right forum for your meeting. The process can be unproductive when an abuser and victim still share living quarters. Even if you live in separate homes, the court system can’t predict or prevent an abusive spouse’s actions.

If you have domestic violence issues that you deem an emergency, Maricopa County Family Court is open for services it considers “essential.” These include protection order applications, hearings for protection orders, motions for temporary emergency orders, and hearings for emergency motions. The court has established special protocols for these procedures.

Contact Attorney DeShon Laraye Pullen

If you would like to know more about Zoom mediation or you have another divorce-related question, reach out to us for more information. DeShon Laraye Pullen is a Certified Family Law Specialist. Our Phoenix and Scottsdale attorneys help families resolve divorce, post-divorce, and decree modification issues. We handle every client’s case with compassion and dedication.

To schedule a consultation, call us at 602-252-1968 or complete our Contact Form.

On March 31, a stay at home order was issued by Governor Doug Ducey with the intention of slowing the spread of the COVID19 virus. This order went into effect immediately and since schools were closed, many people were suddenly juggling working at home, full-time parenting, and distance learning for their children. Unfortunately, it also caused problems for parents across Arizona who are sharing custody and visitation with children.

Child Visitation Court Orders Must Be Followed

For most divorced couples, there are court ordered visitations and custody. While the courts are no in “physical” session, these court ordered visitations and all issues pertaining to custody matters are in full force and effect.

The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) issued a statement that all visitations for children in their custody would be conducted via teleconferences through at least April 30. However, this does not apply to families where parents are sharing custody, or where there are certain visitation schedules in place through the courts.

Communication is Crucial Between Parents

During this challenging time, communicating with your former spouse may be the best option available to you. Some of the challenges you should be addressing include:

  • Risk factors — if one of you is still employed as an essential employee, what are the risks of being exposed to COVID19? If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider remote visitations until you are safe from contracting the virus. While children are at a lower risk, this does not mean they are not facing risks.
  • Financial realities — make sure you have a discussion as parents about any financial limitations you have which could impact your ability to provide a safe haven for your children including purchasing food and any medicine they may need.
  • Outside activities — have an open discussion about activities which your child may be involved in during their visitation with their parent. Make sure if they are going to playgrounds they are remaining physically distanced from others on the playground and that proper hygiene after being in these areas is being followed.

Courts Have Issued Some Guidance to Parents

Thankfully, parents do not have to go this alone. In addition to some common sense measures, the courts have issued some guidance which you should review if you are in this position. Remember, the courts remain available to offer intervention should something be out of the ordinary.

School Break Visitation Schedules

One thing that is important to remember is the fact that while the schools are closed down for this pandemic, this is not considered a “standard” school break and therefore, the typical plans for visitation should apply. However, when the breaks are part of the school calendar, those visitation schedules should be adhered to by the parents.

No Rights to Withhold Visitation

It is important to keep in mind, neither parent has the right to cease allowing visitation. However, the courts have also indicated that should a parent have a COVID19 diagnosis, be informed they were exposed to the virus, or were in an area where there was an outbreak then plans should be altered accordingly for a period of at least 14 days.

Should a parent be unable to visit because of exposure, the other parent should take steps to ensure the child has regular contact with the other parent during this difficult and challenging time. Thankfully, technology offers many options including Facetime, Zoom, and other similar platforms where the child can both talk to and see their other parent.

Supervised Visits, Pickups and Drop Offs

One challenge a parent may be facing is those cases where they have been ordered to drop off or pick up a child in a supervised setting. Because these drop off and pick up times often occur at local coffee shops or restaurants, and they are current closed parents may be wondering what options are open to them. In these cases, parents may wish to reach out to a local police or fire station to arrange the time for such supervision.

Supervised visits are far more challenging since they often require a third party to be available during the visit. According to the guidance issued to the courts, these visits may occur with the parent who has primary custody, with them acting as the “supervisor” or the assigned supervisor may be able to attend. If this is not a feasible option, then the parenting time could take place via electronic means.

Keeping Children Engaged with Parents

As you can see from the guidelines issued by the courts, the big takeaway is making sure children keep engaged with both parents during this difficult time. In the event there is a need to not see parents face-to-face, then communication should be arranged electronically, and parents should discuss options for make up time once this crisis abates.

When Parents Cannot Agree

This is an exceedingly difficult time for everyone. There is additional stress placed on both parents who may be navigating unemployment or work at home routines for the first time. Children will not be returning to school which means their schedules are disrupted and many may not understand why they cannot see their friends or go to the local playground. The added stress all of us are under often leads to disagreements which may seem impossible to overcome, particularly when it comes to visitation and parenting time.

If you are concerned about your child’s safety, if you and your former spouse cannot agree on a reasonable alternative when there are health concerns, or if your former spouse is withholding visitation, there is help available. While the courts are no officially open for business, they are still conducting business and they are available to hear cases pertaining to visitation and shared custody matters.

If you are facing challenges with parenting time, joint custody matters, or visitation schedules and you find it impossible to reach a satisfactory arrangement with your former spouse, contact DeShon Laraye Pullen PLC at 602-252-1968 or 480-524-1540 and let us help you get this matter resolved satisfactorily. Stay safe and well.

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