With the world turned upside down, and Covid-19 disrupting every facet and sector of life as we have known it, one ongoing and soon to be a repetitive problem is how to try cases when the courtrooms are closed.
Every week (and possibly month that passes) compounds the problem because it will take even longer to resolve matters like spousal support, the division of assets, and custody arrangements when divorcing parents can’t agree.
So, now what? The longer the courts are closed, the longer the delay in having matters adjudicated.
Closed Courts Due To Coronavirus? How to Fast-Track Your Divorce
The courts could be backed up for not only weeks, but months, and possibly years.
Many attorneys are urging their clients to opt for audio and visual face-to-face platforms to resolve their issues. With the rapid advancements in technology these days, a virtual courtroom could possibly take the place of an actual courtroom, as we have known it.
The use of technology may also save divorcing couples money as they proceed with their divorce process with little or no interruption. And, with the advent of even more human connectability online, it is even easier to get the judicial job done in most cases.
The following are a few suggestions to help you fast-track your divorce process if your case is one that was headed for the courtroom. In many cases, these recommendations could save you from having to endure that uncomfortable and nerve-wracking public courtroom trial, which at best is unpredictable.
There are no guarantees that your case will be heard as scheduled, as you matter may be continued or delayed due to the court’s schedule. These suggestions might also help you get on with your new life much more quickly.
1. Mediation and Arbitration: You may have already tried mediation or arbitration, but if you haven’t gone that route yet, consider it. There are plenty of agencies that offer these services, and with the stressful times we are living in, this approach could hasten a resolution and help you get to the finish line.
Five of the major organizations that provide these services in the Los Angeles area include: ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution); JAMS (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services); ARC (Alternative Resolution Centers); AAA (the American Arbitration Association); and the Signature Resolution Panel. The latter was founded by a retired judge. Most retired judges are highly qualified and seasoned.
2. Consider reaching out to others: Your family therapist, a clergy person, a trusted advisor—someone you both respect and admire, or let your attorney and your soon-to-be ex’s, sit down at the table and see if they can resolve your case outside the courtroom in light of these trying times.
3. Don’t get caught up in the petty stuff: Sure, you’re mad, angry, sad and likely experiencing tremendous trauma and distress, but do you want to prolong your divorce and battle over little things? Is it really worth it to you? Do you want to wait for what might be months to have your case heard/resolved?
4. Consider the drastic changes and times we now live in: If you have been in litigation for months or even years, reassess your priorities and ask if waiting even longer than you anticipated will further impact your wallet or peace of mind. The Covid-19 virus has been a wake-up call for many. Perhaps you have a new perspective on getting through your divorce, now; maybe it’s not sensible to wait for a re-opened courtroom
5. Hire a retired judge: This is my highest recommendation. There are many seasoned judges since retired, who work for many couples to adjudicate —preside over divorce trials—who are more than capable to try your case.
While this is often the choice you hear about when celebrities want privacy in their divorce proceedings (they don’t want their trials going public), it can work for you as well. This choice will also save time, reduce emotional headaches, and afford you ultimate privacy. You may think that hiring a retired judge might cost a fortune, not so. In total, fees and costs may be less than what you might spend if you wait for your trial to be continued in these uncertain times.
As I mentioned, your place in line is likely to be further delayed. Not only might your case be delayed, it may take weeks for you to get a date from the court. In sum, allowing a private judge to preside over your trial might be the smartest and more prudent thing you can do. And, you can do this via video conferencing. An added bonus: You won’t have to be in the same room as your ex. Video conferencing creates a presence for all, but eliminates the close proximity of being in the same space as your ex. This arrangement helps to subdue a sense of intimidation.
6. No choice but the courts, immediately: Naturally, there are caveats to everything, and needing a restraining order for events such a domestic violence incident, lack of child support, and a parent not returning the child to the other, are examples that will need to be heard immediately.
While the courts may not be in session inside the courthouse, they are still taking ex-party filings and hearing those emergency cases. If you’re in immediate danger (violation of restraining order(s) or domestic violence, your ex absconding with your child(ren)), you can always call your local police department or fire department. They are trained to handle emergency situations.
My final thoughts are these: The welfare and safety, and the recovery of economic losses due to Covid-19, is where the focus will be in the coming days, weeks and months. Your divorce will likely take a back seat in terms of priority for you and your ex.
Confer with your attorney. Ask him/her to further explain these options listed above. Ultimately, together you and your attorney will need to choose the most sensible course of action according to the issues in your matter.