The past year and a half has brought in its share of problems for court-going lawyers.  In our criminal practice we have had to put off numerous trials and court appearances because of court closures due to COVID 19.  However, despite the absence of Chambers sitting in family court, resolutions between parties have been going ahead, perhaps even in a more productive way.  With the various orders to self-isolate and refrain from in-person meetings, our resolution discussions have had to go virtual.

Prior to the pandemic, parties in a collaborative divorce would meet in person, in a boardroom, where everyone would come together as a team to work through issues and try to resolve them amicably.  While there were some great aspects with this approach to resolution, some new benefits have come from parties meeting online.

If you have been through a divorce, you know the discussions involved, even in a collaborative situation, are tough and emotional.  You may have experienced sitting in a boardroom and being unable to control your emotions, even though you wanted to remain strong and collected.  With a virtual meeting, the added comfort of being in your own home, with your own surroundings, has helped our clients maintain composure through some difficult meetings.  You also have the option to turn off your video if you do not want the other people present to see you being emotional.  You can also stop yourself from having to see your ex-partner’s reactions as you go along.  As an individual going through a rough time, having this power over what you see, and what you show, can add significant comfort to the process.

In family law, we also have situations where there may have been violence involved.  The power of the subtle cues and manipulation that one party might wield over the other are significantly lessened online. For the victim, not having to be present in the same room as the perpetrator can be significant.

For scheduling purposes many parties have also found online meetings to be preferable to in-person ones.  No one has to travel or pay for parking.  It allows for more flexibility in everyone’s schedules to get together virtually.  In addition, when meetings are held online, it becomes harder for multiple people to talk over each other because only one person can speak at a time.  This allows participants to fully get a point across without interruption.

Despite all these new and unexpected benefits, a few downfalls remain from taking our meetings virtual.  The teamwork aspect of working through matters collaboratively is slightly less effective when everyone is not sitting together at a table.  We also routinely use flipcharts and whiteboards in our in-person meetings to visually work through issues and specify goals that everyone can easily refer to.  While hiding emotion over video may be a huge benefit in some cases, its absence also creates a loss of human-feeling which can sometimes help people move forward to see their ex-partners feelings.  The lack of being able to interrupt each other can also make it difficult to stop someone if they are headed down a deconstructive or inappropriate path.

As we move forward with our family practice, and the pandemic situation continues to evolve and change, we will continue to adapt our practice to meet the needs of our clients.  Perhaps in the future we will be able to discuss these positive and negative aspects of meetings with our clients and have the choice to meet virtually or in person.  If you are thinking about resolving a family law issue but were putting it off due to the pandemic, do not wait.  Our meetings are going ahead and one of our family lawyers would be happy to take your call.

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