How To Cope With Family Court Online During Lockdown18th Nov 2020
Added Pressure Of Getting Divorced Online
Covid-19 lockdown has created a double whammy in divorce. All the added pressure of confinement is causing more couples to split up. But social distancing is making the process harder and more stressful for many.
Couples getting divorced are having to attend court remotely – by conference call or video link. Some say they cannot understand what is happening and that they are unable to talk to their solicitors.
Divorce hearings via phone or video can be a challenge if you are not used to online meetings. Having the right lawyer can make a big difference.
Making It Work For You
One of the big concerns that people have with online hearings is that they will lose control of the process. They fear they will become little more than an observer – powerless to intervene as events unfold around them.
They worry that – unlike at a normal face-to-face family court hearing – they will have no opportunity to speak. Their phone line or video link will be taken up by the lawyers and the court. All they can do is listen and hope.
But I can reassure you that – after many of these online hearings – the process works well. I can break away from the hearing to confer with my client and after taking their instructions, I just ask the court to dial me back in.
Another option is to have two devices to hand – landline, mobile(s), tablet or laptop – so the client can message me with instructions or comments during the hearing if necessary.
Video conferencing is usually better than a telephone hearing because it gives you a better chance to observe and interpret body language. But most hearings are conducted by telephone at the moment.
This will never be the same as a face-to-face hearing but sadly that is a very rare option during lockdown. Safety protocols must be observed for the good of society and the welfare of its most vulnerable members.
For now – at least until lockdown ends – the courts are generally working remotely. Online hearings are usually the only real option. So you need a lawyer with the experience to make it work for you.
Benefits Of Attending A Court Hearing Online
Attending court online spares you the expense and inconvenience of travel. It also means that hearings are more likely to keep to time. Contrast that with attending the court in person: you could be kept waiting for hours – increasing your stress levels, which could impact on how you are perceived by the judge.
There can be an issue with paperwork if you do not have access to a computer and are relying on just a smartphone. That is a rare scenario but when it does happen we can get the bundle of legal documents to you in traditional paper form if need be.
Generally, the online hearings process works fine. It has worked every time for me so far. The court has always been able to dial me in.
The people who should be really worried are the other side. Their lawyer may not be as experienced or as comfortable with the technology.
How To Avoid Court Altogether
If the thought of attending court online still makes you nervous, fear not – there is another way. You can keep your case out of court. One way to do that is through mediation. It is often quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going to court.
It is a legal requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before the issue of any contested court proceedings (usually ones that involve children and financial matters). You may be exempted from a MIAM if your matter is urgent (ie, if you are a victim of domestic abuse).
Here’s how mediation works. You sit down with your former partner and a third-party mediator (who doesn’t take sides). Together you work to reach an agreement that is fair to both sides.
Here are the benefits of mediation:
- you stay in control of the process at all times – unlike a court where you hand the final decision to a judge
- mediation is a voluntary process – no-one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do (unlike a court)
- you will reach agreement faster (saving you time, money and heartache) – so you can move on and get on with your life.
The key word here is ‘agreement’. Sooner or later, every case ends in a settlement of some form. How you get there is your choice; it can either be an agreement you decide – or it can be one that the court decides. It’s up to you.
So we strongly recommend looking at mediation as a serious option.
Get Expert Legal Advice
Find out more about how to get divorced during lockdown or other social distancing restrictions.
Contact Coles Miller Associate and Senior Family Lawyer Lindsey Arnold at our Poole office.