As a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Missouri and the requirement that citizens practice social distancing to combat the spread of the virus, by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, every courthouse in Missouri is closed to in-person hearings, with few exceptions. As of the time of this blog, the order extends through May 15, 2020.
As most litigants experience, our court system’s ability to react to and address issues in a contested dissolution or custody matter can be slow, under the best of circumstances. With the disruption of dockets and the cancellation of hearings that will need to be reset, it is not difficult to anticipate further delay once the prohibition is lifted and those cases that were delayed are reintegrated into the court’s calendar.
An alternative to the normal litigation process that can shorten the time until the conclusion of your divorce or custody matter is the process of Mediation, which can take place either prior to filing your case or after your case has been filed. The authority of resolving legal disputes and specifically family law matters through the use of mediation is established both by statute and by the rules of Supreme Court of Missouri.
In Mediation, the parties work through their issues in a less formal setting and without restrictions and delays imposed by a court. The process is assisted by an impartial third party, who is typically a family law attorney who is knowledgeable in the law and experienced in dealing with issues the parties need to agree upon and skillful in mitigating conflict that can often be present in family law cases. In Missouri, this person should have special training in the specific field of mediation in addition to their other certifications and degrees.
However, mediation is not always an appropriate avenue for every litigant. If there exists a history of emotional or physical abuse between the parties, that existing dynamic often prevents them from working through the issues in a constructive manner to reach an acceptable agreement. If either party does not have access to important information necessary to make a decision, such as account balances and income information then until they have that information reaching an agreement can be very difficult. Yet, if you do not find yourself in these circumstances then mediation of your family law case can be a solution to resolve your case.
The benefits of mediation can be many including promoting parents cooperation in the crafting of their own parenting plan and custody schedule; reducing the stress and anxiety on the family; having greater participation and control in the outcome and the timeline to reach that outcome.
If the mediation is successful and an agreement is reached by the parties, that agreement is incorporated into an order and judgment executed by the family court judge presiding over your case. At that point the agreement becomes final.
Parties considering mediation should be aware that important element of mediation is its confidential nature. In order to encourage the open discussion of issues, any communication between the parties in the presence of the mediator is confidential and inadmissible in court. Therefore, should the negotiations fail to reach an agreement and a contested hearing is necessary, the parties can feel secure that statements made in mediation cannot be brought before the trial judge nor can the mediator be compelled to testify about the substance of the mediation.
If you are interested in participating in mediation in an effort to resolve your family law matter or if you have questions about mediation, with over 45 years of combined experience in the practice of family law, the Bellon Law Group can assist you. We are currently accepting new mediation cases.
Given the current CDC recommendation and local mandates on social distancing, the Bellon Law Group has arranged for mediation sessions to take place remotely with the assistance of electronic conferencing platforms such as Skype and Zoom. Please give our office a call today if you are interested in discussing your situation.