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Mediation of Virginia Family Law Cases During COVID-19

MediationThe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is raising special challenges for those facing separation, divorce, custody or support cases in Virginia. Couples who were experiencing marital difficulties before the crisis may find those difficulties magnified as they now spend much more time together at home. There are various custody and visitation issues raised by COVID-19, as well as issues of modification of support as many people are laid off from their jobs.

The Supreme Court of Virginia has issued an order temporarily limiting the types of cases that will be heard in Virginia. The order instructs Virginia courts to give precedence to certain emergency matters including emergency child custody cases, quarantine or isolation matters, and protective order cases. For more information, see Filing a New Family Law Case During the Judicial Emergency in Virginia.

The situation with COVID-19 does not mean that progress on family law cases has to completely stall out. While the limited court schedule presents a significant hardship to those who want their matters heard, it also presents an opportunity to resolve those cases through mediation.

Reasons to Mediate During COVID-19

Here are a few reasons to consider mediation during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Lack of Other Options. For many who are experiencing marital difficulties and facing divorce, their access to the court system is either extremely limited or non-existent at this time. Mediation allows parties to move their cases forward in a way that the court system cannot right now.
  2. Court Backlog and Continued Uncertainty. Once Virginia courts fully reopen, there will undoubtedly be a significant backlog of family law cases along with all other cases that have been filed during and/or after the pandemic. In many jurisdictions, including Loudoun County, litigants were already waiting many months to have their cases heard pre-COVID-19. The pandemic will only cause further stress on limited resources in these courts, potentially pushing available court dates far, far into the future.
  3. Potential to Minimize Costs. As is almost always the case, alternative dispute resolution offers a lower financial cost to the parties. The total costs to successfully mediate a matter are significantly less on average than the amount required to litigate a case through a final court hearing.
  4. Confidentiality. Mediation allows parties to speak freely without the threat of their statements being used against them in litigation down the road. This is a key component of mediation, as it allows for complete honesty and transparency, which, unfortunately, are not always a given at trial.

Types of Mediation in Virginia

If you are considering mediation to resolve your family law case, you will typically have two types of mediation to choose from:

  • Private Mediation. In this type of mediation, the parties typically go together, without their respective counsel, to meet with a private mediator. The mediator is, in almost all cases, a practicing attorney. The parties typically attend several sessions of mediation as they work towards reaching a settlement through a marital settlement agreement, which is prepared by the mediator.
  • Judicial Mediation. In this type of mediation, the parties and their counsel bring in a retired judge to serve as the mediator. In contrast with private mediation, this type of mediation typically occurs in one session, which can often be a long day and night for everyone involved. However, it is an efficient, fair, and cost-effective way to settle the matter once and for all.

Most mediators are offering their services via video conferencing at this time. In addition, mediators can set up conference calls with both parties and their attorneys, and communicate with both sides via email to move cases along expeditiously.

To learn more about how mediation might be used to move your divorce or other family law matter forward, be sure to speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas, and Fredericksburg, representing clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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