By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
This virus has changed the world, and that includes divorce cases. While divorces are proceeding, they are different now, from beginning to end.
In “the good old days,” the parties and their attorneys would attend Initial Status Conferences in person. It was the first introduction of the parties to the courthouse. But now, COVID19 has forced these Conferences to now be by telephone. A positive is that this new format saves the clients substantial fees and costs. They are no longer billed for the lawyer’s travel time to and from the courthouse.
Most mediators do not have the facilities to accommodate six feet of separation, and talking for eight hours with a mask is cruel and unusual punishment. So, mediations are occurring by Zoom. The mediator is at home, and each attorney and party participate in their own Zoom window. The mediator assigns the lawyer and client a separate room, so that they are not with the other side. The mediator then moves between the two video chat rooms. If agreement is reached, a written document is emailed between the lawyers, and signatures received remotely.
Even the most crucial part of a divorce, a trial, has changed. I recently had a full day trial by way of WebEx. The judge was in the courtroom, on our screen, the parties were in their own space and screen, and we lawyers were in our respective offices and screens. There is a delay in the sound, so an objection required the lawyer to flap his/her arms like a crazy person to get the judge’s attention. In the courtroom, it is easy to refresh recollection or impeach, by approaching the witness with a document. This is not so easy on video. Even harder, one or more participants had trouble hearing every so often, so the proceeding would have to be paused, and the session rebooted, after arms were waived crazily to bring the problem to the attention of the judge.
The proceedings in general are very delayed right now. Many conferences and hearings that were scheduled during March and April were continued, so the courts are playing catch up. When trials can resume, jury trials will likely take precedence, pushing divorce cases even further down the docket.
What has not changed is the quality representation that we provide to our clients. We are open for initial consultations, in-person, by phone, or over Zoom. We are preparing with clients as we always have. We are a team with our client, through this virus and after.