Many areas of the country have found themselves holding video conferenced family law hearings, in the wake of COVID-19, and as states begin to reopen their courts, many have considered utilizing the technology beyond the pandemic.
For men and fathers facing modification issues or who are being kept away from their children, this may be able to provide them the immediate assistance they are seeking.
Cordell & Cordell’s Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and divorce highlighted this topic and provided tips and strategies for those facing these types of challenges.
State by state
The Virtual Town Hall was led by Cordell & Cordell CEO, Managing/Executive Partner Scott Trout and a panel of attorneys from across the United States. They described how family courts are approaching the reopening process, depending on the state.
“The state of California has left it up to the individual counties to decide how they are going to handle reopening,” Cordell & Cordell California Litigation Attorney Laura Matsie said. “We’re all concerned about the backlog that this is going to create.”
Similar to California, Georgian governing bodies have left it up to the individual counties, but with different regulations at play.
“The Georgia Supreme Court has issued the judicial emergency extension, allowing each local court system to make their own decisions about how comfortable they are, reopening for live hearings,” Cordell & Cordell Litigation Manager Nicholas Granade said. “In the meantime, they’ve really emphasized the use of video conferencing for hearings and so forth.”
Video conferencing in family law
The COVID-19 pandemic has given family courts the opportunity to test out video conferencing hearings, and with the weeks and months that have gone by, they have become more comfortable in proceedings.
“We have been doing Zoom hearings or WebEx hearings here since right after the schools closed in the middle of March,” Cordell & Cordell Nebraska Litigation Attorney Megan McDowell said. “I’ve seen a lot of really good success for certain kinds of hearings.”
With how unprecedented the incorporation of technology is for attorneys, it is vital that clients also familiarize themselves with how a legal hearing will go.
“The first thing viewers should be writing down, as they are watching us, is get with your lawyer, prepare for the next Zoom hearing, have a practice run, and get used to what’s going to happen, so that it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of hiccups,” Mr. Trout said
Advantages and disadvantages of video conferencing hearings
Once a client and attorney are familiar with the technology, they can begin to take advantage of the situation, for the betterment of the case.
“There certainly are some advantages to virtual hearings,” Cordell & Cordell Arizona Litigation Attorney Christopher Kennedy said. “Here in Arizona, it’s very typical, even before COVID, that status conferences and shorter hearings were held telephonically.
“Certainly, it’s more comfortable for the parties to be able to appear remotely. They don’t have to travel to the courthouse. They don’t have to go through security. It allows social distancing.”
Mr. Kennedy also highlighted some of the disadvantages that clients and attorneys run into during virtual hearings.
“I would say that some of the disadvantages of appearing virtually is that it requires a significant amount of preparation,” Mr. Kennedy said. “If you’re organized, then everyone has to have a copy of the exhibits. You need to practice with clients on how to get the exhibits into evidence.
“Conducting examination of witnesses can be a little difficult virtually. There’s also something to be said about being physically present in the courtroom.”
Active dads in distance learning
The Virtual Town Hall also addressed the distance that many dads are experiencing during the pandemic. Attorneys emphasized the need to remain present and active in their children’s lives through distance learning.
“In this environment, parents in general aren’t really dropping off their kids and leaving them for teachers to do their teaching,” Cordell & Cordell Minnesota Litigation Attorney Melissa Taylor said. “Especially if they have weekday parenting time, dads are also getting involved in the day-to-day distance learning and the homeschooling.
“It’s giving our clients a chance, not only to be more in-tune, but to prove to the opposing party that they are or have always been just as in-tune of a parent.”
Cordell & Cordell is continuing to produce weekly Virtual Town Halls and daily podcasts to answer your questions about how the pandemic is impacting family law. You can find a full library of content on this topic on the Cordell & Cordell COVID-19 and Divorce Information Hub.