How the current public health situation may impact your Family Law matter
Who would have guessed 6 months ago that we'd all be sitting in our homes, socially distanced from all the people and places we love, facing down August with absolutely no sense of when our lives will regain a feeling of normalcy. Everyday tasks like going to the grocery store, registering the kids for school and spending time with friends have suddenly taken on new meanings. And special days like quinceañeras, graduations and weddings have all had to be rescheduled or re-planned to accommodate our new norms.
At Halligan LLC, we've been closely monitoring how the courts approach the need for hearings. With experience in high asset divorces and complex child custody (Parenting Time) matters, we've been able to settle the majority of our clients' cases without the need for a hearing. However, there are situations when both parties are unable to come to a mutual understanding without the court's intervention.
In those cases, we are seeing a pattern from the courts in requiring that the hearing be held virtually. Halligan LLC has some concerns as it relates to Due Process for Family Law matters in a virtual venue. An objection may be able to be submitted for that reason, but there's no guarantee that the court will postpone the trial. If postponed to ensure there will be an in-person hearing, it's likely to be postponed until 2021. It won't be postponed indefinitely.
If your Family Law matter is scheduled to appear before the court in a virtual venue, there are several things to be aware of:
1. Technology Doesn't Always Play Nicely
Halligan LLC usually schedules a full day for the final, permanent orders hearing when conducted in-person. Remote hearings often take at least twice as long as an in-person hearing because of difficulties in understanding everything that is being said by the various attorneys, clients, witnesses, experts, and court officials over a virtual conference line. In fact, one judge in Denver County recently shared that they had a virtual permanent orders hearing that was scheduled for one day that actually lasted FOUR days. It's for this reason that our Firm has adopted the standard practice to set aside two full days for those types of hearings when required to meet virtually.
2. Maintaining Attorney-Client Privilege
During an in-person hearing the attorney and the client are able to easily confer with one another throughout witness testimony in order to best plan and strategize. When meeting virtually, the client needs to make a decision as to whether they will be meeting in the same "space" as their attorney; meaning sharing a single dedicated line in order to speak to one another privately.
3. Being the Best Version of You
It may sound silly, but your visual representation online is just as important as if you were meeting in-person. There are several ways to enhance your image in order to put the best foot forward:
- Dress to impress, as if you were appearing before the court in-person. Get a good night's sleep the night before so you appear refreshed. Make sure your wardrobe is clean, pressed, professional, and modest. (Pro Tip: Remember to dress below the belt. Just because we're virtual doesn't mean there won't be an accidental camera shot of your pajama bottoms)
- Sit in a well lit area of your space. Facing a window with the sun shining in is the best option. Avoid brash lighting or low lighting that result in unflattering shadows or a washed out appearance.
- Utilize a dedicated mic (such as earbuds with a mic or an external mic) that doesn't rely on your equipment's speaker. This reduces any background noise in the event you're required to speak.
- Clean your space! Use a dedicated room that is closed off to the rest of the home/building. This ensures there are no distractions (see below). Make sure you've cleaned the space well by removing clutter, organizing books, papers and magazines, and by eliminating any toys/supplies that happen to be lying about from pets or children. This aids in projecting an organized and professional image.
- Eliminate distractions from your space. Lock your fur babies in another room and give them some white noise or turn on a fan in case they get vocal when they're upset. Turn off your mobile phone. (Heaven forbid the court asking if you've become bored with the proceedings because they can clearly see that you're scrolling through your social media feed.)
- Ask for help with the kids. Don't have children present in the home/building. Children are not permitted in courtrooms for permanent orders hearings and their presence (even in the same home/building) could be damaging to them and to your case.
- Avoid eating meals or anything larger than crackers. Nobody enjoys seeing another person's big face on their screen happily munching away on their tuna fish sandwich.
- Mute yourself when not talking. Although I've listed it last here, it's actually the Golden Rule to being a good conference call participant. Coughs, sneezes, sighs, keyboards clicking, and pencils scratching all serve as auditory distractions to the other participants on the conference line.
These are just a few of the ways we help our clients prepare for a virtual court appearance. While it may be a less than desirable venue for a Family Law hearing, there are still ways we can be successful in representing their needs before the court in a meaningful and substantial way.
If you'd like more information about how to best prepare for your own upcoming hearing, please reach out to our Firm Administrator, Dyana Williams. She can be reached at (720)795-9537 or at [email protected]com