The Covid-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of life, including divorce. With courthouses closed to the public, divorcing couples have had to contend with technology solutions like Zoom for hearings and trials. This has made what’s already a challenging process even harder as participants deal with bad connectivity and sound, background distractions and getting documents to a judge that can usually be handed over in person.
Nonetheless, Zoom and similar tech solutions have improved the process in certain ways that may outlive the virus.
For example, remote conferences and hearings enable divorcing spouses to avoid each other’s physical presence. That can be helpful in a contentious case.
Additionally, depending on a court’s efficiency in scheduling Zoom calls there may be a lot less waiting around for your hearing, and if you do have to wait online in a “virtual waiting room” at least you’re waiting at home and not in a courtroom. Meanwhile, you don’t have to travel to court and pay for parking or wait in security lines. Your attorney and experts don’t have to do that either, which can cut down considerably on costs.
Videoconferencing can also be useful if kids are involved and you have concerns about whether the other parent’s home is fit for visitation. Zoom can enable the judge to see where the child lives, sleeps, plays and eats firsthand. Similarly if the other parent claims your home is an inappropriate place for a child, a Zoom tour may help discredit such claims.
In terms of the case itself, judges may be able to better determine the credibility of a witness who is projected on a large screen in the courtroom than they can when the witness is present in person but at more of a distance.
Zoom does present some issues. For example, family court hearings are open to the public in many states. This could mean a Zoom hearing is open to the public too, either on YouTube or with a link provided to those who request it. This means nosy neighbors, bosses and others who wouldn’t otherwise take the time to watch your divorce proceeding in person now may be find it more convenient to log in. Your kids might also be able to watch, exposing them to information you’d rather they not hear.
There may be security concerns for publicly viewable hearings on Zoom when documents with sensitive personal or financial information are introduced into evidence. If they’re introduced by screen-sharing, there’s the risk this information could be seen on the internet where such proceedings are available to the public.
If this is a risk, it may be possible to convince the court not to broadcast your particular case. It’s only fair for a judge to consider the balance between the public’s right to view a public proceeding and the privacy rights of the participants.
Even after months of the pandemic, this remains a strange, new landscape that we’re all still trying to figure out, and the experience can differ from place to place. If you’re thinking of getting divorced and feeling anxious about it happening remotely, talk to a family law attorney who can help address your concerns.