When the global pandemic brought life to a grinding halt last March, we did what people have always done in the face of adversity; we adapted. We innovated. We created new systems.
Not all ideal, of course, (hello homeschooling), but we did what we could with what we had. Somehow, we came together and made it work.
Now as life is beginning to regain some of its normal rhythms, we find ourselves re-evaluating old processes in light of what we now know to be possible. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
The Way We Do Divorce
Not every system operates better under remote conditions (education for one), but from my observations, most of the impact on divorce cases has been positive, for clients, attorneys, and judges alike.
The Impact of Final Divorce Hearings
The ability to have video meetings has increased the amount of face-to-face contact that clients have with their attorneys, and virtual court has increased access to the court system. In Michigan, only the Plaintiff is required to appear to finalize a divorce. Pre-pandemic, in my experience, only the Plaintiff appeared in court in 90% of cases. With Zoom court, this has flipped and both parties appear 90% of the time.
This is very revealing; it tells me that the vast majority of people want to be actively involved and present for their divorce proceedings and were opting out in the past solely because of the inconvenience and unpleasantness associated with going to court.
When you factor in taking time off from work, childcare, drive time, parking, etc., it is frequently a huge hassle just to get to the courthouse, let alone the daunting aspects of facing a judge, attorneys, and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse in a room together. Now it can be done from the comfort and safety of your home. And pants are optional. Clearly, some form of virtual court is here to stay.
Michigan State Court Administrator Thomas Boyd recently said that the use of online platforms such as Zoom to conduct court proceedings is “the biggest boost to access to justice in our lifetimes,” and it will continue long after the coronavirus pandemic is over. In a statewide memo sent to administrators and judges last week, Boyd said judges “are required to make a good-faith effort to conduct proceedings remotely whenever possible. Michigan courts are not going back to the old way,” he said. “Nearly 1,000 judges, magistrates, and referees have Zoom licenses and have presided over more than 3 million hours of online proceedings.
Parties and their attorneys love it… exponential improvement in efficiency. This is no time to retreat from the use of technologies that have brought us so far.”
I see this trend increasing throughout the country as well. Additionally, with many civil courts still shuttered, there is more incentive than ever for couples to find alternative dispute resolutions to litigation such as mediation, collaborative, and one lawyer divorce.
Of course, when it comes to divorce, even amicable ones can be fraught with emotion. Being in control of your surroundings during the proceedings (complete with flattering webcam filters and backgrounds) is both comforting and empowering.
My clients (and those of my fellow attorneys) have reported that they found the online experience to be far less time-consuming and stressful than onsite. As I have dedicated my practice to making this life transition as smooth and painless as possible for my clients and their families, I gratefully welcome this new normal.