While some couples may have grown closer during quarantine, others are deciding to go their separate ways. The pandemic is putting a halt on major life events such as graduations and weddings, but not divorce. According to legal experts, couples are still filing for separation during the health crisis, but the divorce process is being held up by changes in court operations brought on by the ongoing issue. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the court system, but some courts have since decided to go virtual for existing cases that were already pending before the virus shut down the court system.
Due to the pandemic, the legal system has been forced to dive into the virtual world and experiment with remote proceedings to keep cases moving forward. Many people didn’t have much access to the courts since many states temporarily halted all divorce cases, leaving many questions about how to proceed. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, criminal trials were put on hold in California state courts in April, but they began allowing pretrial proceedings that could be conducted remotely, such as arraignments where charges are announced, plea negotiations, input from crime victims, and, with the defendant’s consent, pleas, and sentences that resolve the case. The same month, the Alameda County Superior Court reopened some criminal arraignments to the public, via live-streamed audio-only, according to The Mercury News.
The court began the live streams of arraignments in some courtrooms, where the public was able to access the live audio streams on the court’s website. While some think that going virtual may help the courts continue running, others are concerned it might be a violation of their rights. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed concern over the lack of public access to these hearings, alleging it was a clear and troubling violation of the First Amendment rights of the public and press.
Virtual mediations allow clients to resolve disputes during the coronavirus pandemic, offering an acceptable alternative to in-person mediation. With the use of technology, divorce mediation and settlement options are easily manageable using online mediation programs, which are specifically designed to work with people’s schedules. During the current COVID-19 crisis, online divorce mediation services have become especially helpful to parties seeking to resolve their divorce sooner rather than later and allows them to continue the process from the safety of their own homes. Online mediators can still help couples discuss, negotiate, and resolve all of the issues required for an uncontested divorce including child custody, child support, alimony, and the division of marital assets.
Virtual court may be an adequate replacement for in-person proceedings in the meantime, but not everyone will agree with the virtual experience. Although a divorce during a pandemic would alleviate any stress for couples who were quarantined together, some will find their cases will be put on hold due to a currently backed-up legal system. Still, many family lawyers say they’re successfully adapting during the crisis. They are trading face-to-face mediation sessions for platforms like Zoom and Skype, and are creating virtual offices from the comfort of their own home. As the coronavirus pandemic continues adding pressure to already troubled marriages and court closures looming ahead, divorce attorneys will have to adapt to the new virtual world.