Divorce hearings are mostly now remote: How Zoom is making divorces easier

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Throughout the United States, virtual appearances for divorces have become the norm. The pandemic-related measure is helping litigants find it easier to show up, speak, and emotionally recover from the proceedings. Here are tips to navigate a divorce proceeding held via phone or Zoom, Google Meet, or another video software program. 

Distance aids with composure and recovery

Being physically apart from a former spouse allows a litigant space to find a sense of calm. The litigant does not have to worry about running into their former partner in the parking lot, at the entrance to the courthouse, or in an elevator or hallway. In addition, the litigant does not have to physically meet with their attorney. The litigant can mentally separate themselves from the proceeding before and after it is held.

The litigant can rely on other people in their life for support. A litigant can engage in a proceeding from anywhere, like their home or a family member’s home. This means they can arrange for people to be present who could not come to the courthouse or be in the courtroom. A litigant can ask their parents, children, or friends to be there waiting for them when the proceeding is over.

A litigant can also have comforts immediately present for them before and after the proceeding. They can have a favorite meal pre-made or ordered and on the way. They can have a roommate draw up a bubble bath. They can even have a yoga or meditation video ready to go. A litigant can use the time before and after a virtual proceeding to review what has happened and learn what will happen next. They can talk with their attorney about the future. 

An in-person divorce proceeding can be incredibly stressful because it can involve a traffic-filled commute, trying to find parking, a potential encounter with a former partner, and being surrounded by unfamiliar faces, from the bailiff to litigants in other cases. A virtual proceeding eliminates a multitude of stresses. It allows the litigant to focus on themselves. 

On certain occasions, a litigant may be able to engage in a virtual divorce proceeding from their office or workspace. This can present other concerns for the litigant, such as interruptions from managers, clients, and colleagues. The litigant should take care to make sure that they will not be disturbed while the proceeding is taking place. Appearing virtually may help the litigant avoid having to request time off and commute. Yet a litigant who is appearing from work should take a brief period to recover from the proceeding. 

Be careful about recording and safety protocols 

Although virtual proceedings simplify how a litigant attends a divorce proceeding, they also present new concerns. A litigant should talk with their attorney about the rules regarding digital proceedings where you live before starting the Zoom session. 

In Madison County, Alabama, your Huntsville divorce attorney should be familiar with the local court’s rules for Zoom hearings. They should also have read the Zoom-virtual hearing handbook for lawyers developed by the Alabama State Bar and have found out from the County Bar Association how the judges handle things via video. However, there are some rules that all courts in Alabama generally follow via Zoom hearings and you should be aware of these before having yours.

A party to a proceeding will be notified about the date and time of the hearing via, email, regular mail, or as otherwise allowed by the Alabama Rules of Court or by statute. 

A party is not allowed to use an electronic device or other means to capture images or sound recordings of a virtual court hearing without the express written consent of the judge presiding over the judicial proceeding. A party violating this rule may be held in contempt of court. They may also face sanctions.

A party is usually required by the court to use only the court-specified program, such as Zoom, to attend the hearing. 

A person appearing for a virtual court hearing at an office or other location should adhere to the protocols adopted by the Centers for Disease Control to limit the transmission of COVID-19. This may include maintaining a six-foot distance from other individuals.

If the audio or video connection for a proceeding is so poor as to interfere with the administration of justice, the judge or referee for the proceeding will postpone it until a better connection can be obtained. A person who is experiencing a technical disruption of audio or video should immediately inform the court about the concern. A party is required to notify the court about a problem before the proceeding has been concluded. If a litigant or their counsel makes an objection to the quality of the audio or video conference after the proceeding has ended, the court will deem the objection untimely.

IIf you are Pro Se, Then Remember To Do This Before Any Virtual Proceeding 

  • Download and install Zoom or the appropriate software before the hearing.
  • Test the hardware, including the speakers and camera on the computer, and the software, like Zoom, to be used in the hearing before the hearing. 
  • Dress for court hearings in the same manner as for an in-person proceeding.
  • Make sure the background is not distracting and is professional, such as a blank wall or a bookcase. Download Zoom or other app backgrounds if necessary. 
  • Make sure the litigant’s head and shoulders appear in the frame. 
  • Review with a local divorce attorney about how you should exhibit documents, photos, or videos during a Zoom meeting. Only the shared exhibit should be visible. Backgrounds and wallpapers on the computer should be acceptable. 

Eventually the Courts may open back up in Alabama, but until then most court proceedings will be via video. It’s a challenge to have a hearing without being in person but it can have its positives as well. Hopefully, these bits of advice will help you as you proceed through the divorce process during the COVID crisis.