By Asa LaMusga, Esq.
If family law litigants want action taken during the Covid-19 pandemic due to concerns regarding parenting plans, property disputes, or financial matters, they will now be forced to get creative due to restricted court access in many places.
As the Covid-19 pandemic response expands across the county, more courts are dramatically reducing hearings and, in some instances, only hearing emergency motions for short periods of time during the day. This has created a situation where many family court disputes cannot be heard until this pandemic crisis is over. Moreover, depending on the length of the crisis, when it finally does resolve our courts will be overflowing with hearing requests and spending many weeks and months working through a backlog of issues.
Luckily, there are dispute resolution solutions to this severe bottleneck outside of court – and solutions that allow for social distancing and observing appropriate CDC guidelines to ensure people stay healthy.
There are two primary options if you are faced with a family law dispute during this crisis. In either instance, both parties would need to agree to work outside of court to resolve the dispute.
The first option is mediation, in which both sides submit their dispute to a neutral third party who will help them resolve the issue(s). Rather than making decisions for people, the mediator helps the parties reach a resolution together. Each side negotiates and must give and take to reach a consensus. An agreement can only be reached if both sides agree, and a written agreement reached in mediation is generally binding on each party. This can be a great option when disputes arise, and the parties might need a creative solution and help finding the solution.
The second option is binding arbitration, in which the parties submit their dispute to an arbitrator who acts like a judge. The arbitrator will decide what should happen after each side puts on their case, and the parties will be bound to follow the decision. This process is much more like court and can be a great option during this crisis where big disputes might arise but neither party can go to court.
In either instance, the litigants, their attorneys, and the mediator or arbitrator can appear via video conference and/or telephone in order to maintain appropriate social distancing.
This is a very difficult situation for everyone. It is essential that people with family law disputes get creative in order to find ways to address their disagreements and concerns, especially as more and more courts move to limited access. Speaking with an attorney can help you better understand your options as well as what options might be best for your specific situation.