Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

It’s ironic that in the era of COVID-19, everyone is clamoring to use Zoom and other virtual meeting software to conduct business, because I and my colleagues in Collaborative Divorce were already doing it.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

This case began in the typical in-person format in the state of Michigan, with the husband meeting with me several times over the course of nine months, as he contemplated filing for divorce. When it became clear that ending the marriage was, indeed, his next step, he and his wife had already decided to sell their home and move to Colorado, where two of their married children live. 

Photo by Jeff Finley on Unsplash

It’s not like just any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so. That means if my client had moved to Colorado and then decided to file for divorce, I could not represent him, even from afar, with so many great technological tools. 

But because we had built a relationship, and he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his divorce, we strategically filed in the state of Michigan before they made their move, which relegated the case to the state in which they’d lived the duration of their marriage. 

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired a Collaborative Divorce attorney, Symantha Heath, and we pulled together a team that includes divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed up front that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

I assumed the professionals would be together in one place and the parties would be together in another place, but this did not happen at first. For scheduling convenience, each professional has been in her own office and our clients are in their home, in different rooms. 

My feeling as the case progressed was that it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially to guarantee we have a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting ends. As it turns out, due to public health parameters, we must connect via our own shelter-in-place locations. 

For the most part, the case is proceeding beautifully with Zoom video conferencing as our means for communication and meeting.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

There are drawbacks of course – for one, it’s harder to ask to take side meetings with your client or another team member when we are on Zoom but possible using the Breakout Rooms feature which I only recently learned about during an IACP call (“A Candid Conversation About Collaborative in Trying Times”). 

Prior to advancing my Zoom knowledge base, participants were asked to leave the main meeting and then texted or emailed when we were ready for the group to reconvene. There is definitely a learning curve as with all new technology. 

On the positive side, the collaborative tone stays the same in this virtual format. We can bring in professionals from anywhere – there is a mental health professional who moved to California that I used to work with all the time, and Zoom allows me to pull her in if I deem it necessary.

Also, we were able to fashion the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we were able to create virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move when they wanted to move, not having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan before they moved. That could’ve delayed their move a year or longer.

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

Another plus is that you can still see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. We can’t read the energy as we would in-person, but we can still see, really close up, each face. And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts, especially during these times.

Today’s technologies make it so easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done. Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for your cases.

Tips 

  1. Pay attention; make sure you’re looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
  2. Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
  3. It’s easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates any confusion.
  4. Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there’s also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
  5. Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
  6. Especially if professionals are not in the same room, plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting. Planning is still very important.

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