Coronavirus Challenges and Solutions at NPL

Covid-19 Response – Next Phase Legal & Dispute Resolution LLC

April 4, 2020: It has been an interesting few weeks and our Covid-19 involuntary “new normal” is hardly normal at all. While none of us know how long our routines will be disrupted, I am worried my clothes will not fit thanks to excessive snacking.

Stephen McDonough – Attorney and MCFM Certified Mediator

Like most businesses, the Coronavirus caused some changes to our operations, but we are fully operational and benefiting from our existing capabilities and experience with various technologies.  For example, we are already comfortable hosting consultations and client meetings – including virtual Massachusetts divorce mediation sessions – through online services such as Zoom.  Here is a post I wrote back in 2015 (the good old days) about online mediation. So, if you are wondering if a virtual mediation session or a consultation would actually be workable, the answer is yes.

Our team is working from home, fielding telephone calls and other inquires, access case documents electronically, etc.  One of us in the office periodically (that’s me!) because mail still comes in, documents require scanning, etc. Clients continue to have access to their client portal, including secure messaging and documents.   Any payments can be completed electronically, including e-checks and credit/debit cards.  Electronic signatures are in use whenever possible.

So, if you are thinking of getting a divorce in Massachusetts, or interested in modifying your parenting plan, just what is different now due to CV19?

  • The Probate and Family Courts in MA (and other courts) are CLOSED with a few exceptions for actual emergency situations.  Currently, the courts are closed until at least May 4, 2020.  Of course, this date may be extended.  The court has been doing a good job in providing updates, which you can read here.
  • Some cases may be handled through a remote or telephonic hearing.  We were recently notified about an uncontested divorce hearing that the Norfolk Probate & Family Court will hear by phone in just a couple of weeks.
  • New filings can still be mailed to the court, but it is reasonable to assume that hearing dates will be pushed out longer than normal, and existing matters are being continued.
  • What has unfortunately not been addressed by the folks at the State House are the requirements surrounding the notarization of documents. Many states have revised their notarial procedures, allowing remote witnessing through video for example.  Massachusetts has not put temporary procedures in place, so if you need something notarized please contact us and we will arrange a way to notarize your document in a safe manner while maintaining distance.  We have a procedure for this in place, and you get a free Next Phase Legal pen out of the deal as a bonus. Obviously, if you or a family member are not feeling 100%, we ask that you defer making any trips to our office. Let’s all do what we can to take reasonable precautions and flatten that curve.

Things to Think About

A large part of my practice is divorce and family mediation and the similar process of conciliation. Most family law cases can be resolved through divorce mediation or conciliation – especially if you select an experienced and skilled mediator with a track record of successfully resolving conflict and with the advanced training to handle more challenging situations. All of our lawyers are also mediators.

  • Be careful when selecting your mediator. There are lots of mediators out there, but the differences in skills, procedures, and final work product (all of the documents) is remarkable – and not in a good way.
  • With the courts being closed, some lawyers that have not typically focused on mediation and are less experienced in dispute resolution work will be pushing mediation services since they cannot bill for court appearances, depositions, and litigation. I have already started to see some of the advertising. Basic mediator training in Massachusetts requires a mere 30 hours of training, and mediators do not need to be lawyers. Thus, upon completion of just this initial training, mediators label themselves as “certified.”
  • I suggest you search for a mediator that maintains a much higher level of certification, and that is also a divorce and family attorney.  Here in Massachusetts, such a program is maintained by the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation. I have been certified through this program for many years, but it is a small percentage of mediators that have satisfied the requirements and maintain this advanced certification. You can review the more rigid standards here, but it is basically 90 hours of training, over 100 hundred hours of meditation time, peer review, and sample Separation agreements must be submitted. Ongoing training is required.
  • We continue to offer remote mediation and conciliation sessions, client meetings, and new client consultations through web-based video conferencing or by phone if you prefer.  Whether you live in Western MA or on the Cape, we can help you.   
  • Many of us will suffer economic strain. Being in close quarters can cause additional stress, especially when relationships are already rocky. If you should want to schedule an initial consultation, we lowered the fee for our full 1.5 hour initial consultation from $250.00 to $150.00.  Just think, if you can find it, you could buy an ounce of hand sanitizer with that hundred bucks. But seriously, we hope this gesture might help (at least a little) anyone that wants to schedule a consultation but has reduced income.
  • Complimentary (as in free) introductory calls of 15-20 minutes are also available for potential new clients that have questions about our services. We also offer an affordable “Question & Answer” telephone call for anyone that has specific case-related questions but isn’t ready to schedule a consultation. This is a good option for someone trying to handle their situation on their own – which is not usually something we recommend, but we try and support a range of options. Our various service offerings are available here and through our website, just look for the “Schedule a Meeting” button.
  • If you are one of those annoying people selling disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, or gloves or masks online for ridiculous prices to profit from this unfortunate situation, then your consultation fee is $75,000.00.

Thus, if you want to finish your case – even if it is court-based – or you want to start the process whether it is a divorce, or revising your child support or alimony due to significant income changes, then please know we understand what your are going through and are here to help.

Be well!

Steve McDonough, Esq.

Owner, Next Phase Legal & Dispute Resolution LLC

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