Can You Really Get Divorced From Your Couch?

Erin KopelmanErin Kopelman, Principal

Who would have imagined years ago that in 2020 you would be able get divorced from your living room sofa? It is as if it were predicted in the movie “Back to the Future,” like video phones or hoverboards (sort of).

However, this change allowing people to get divorced from their own homes is not the result of some creative Hollywood writer, but because the COVID-19 pandemic occurred during a time when the technology was ripe to go virtual.

The pandemic has caused hardships to many individuals and business. It has forced people to work and do business differently, including our court systems. While the pandemic has been strenuous on our court systems, causing a re-shuffling and backlog of cases, it has also forced our legal system into the digital age.

Our Court system had to quickly adapt to working remotely. Hearings and trials that were almost exclusively in person were converted in a short period of time to occurring virtually over Zoom and WebEx. While no system is perfect and glitches need to be worked out, it is now possible for a person to decide to divorce, find and retain a lawyer and go through their entire divorce process, even if it consists of a full trial, in their own home.

Many hearings are happening quicker and more efficiently. Pre-pandemic it was customary for Courts to schedule multiple hearings at the same time, so when scheduled to be in Court, a client is paying their lawyer to travel, and while in Court there is often significant time spent waiting for your case to be heard. All of this has significantly been reduced when cases are heard virtually, which can be a big financial savings for clients.

While the ability to take care of everything without going anywhere is logistically easier and may have a financial savings, it is important to keep in mind that it does not necessarily make divorce easier emotionally.

For many, divorcing during the pandemic is more difficult. The lack of a personal connection and human touch with their lawyers may be stressful. Moreover, the inability to be surrounded by an in-person emotional support network of family and friends except through virtual and social distancing interactions may be harder not just on those going through divorce, but also on their children.

At Lerch Early, we are highly cognizant of the emotional and financial stresses of divorce on our clients and keep that in mind as we guide them through their divorces.

Preparing to Appear Before a Court When You Are Remote

Liz EstephanLiz Estephan, Attorney

Appearing before a judge during COVID-19 when courts are taking certain precautions to avoid in-person hearings can be a source of additional stress and apprehension.

As a client or self-represented litigant, how do you prepare when you’re going to appear in court via telephone or video? The same way you would as if you were appearing in-person.

You should discuss with your attorney the specific hearing that you are attending remotely to determine your role and how much speaking you will do. For example, your attorney will do the majority of speaking during a scheduling hearing in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. However, if you are attending an uncontested divorce hearing and you are the plaintiff, you will be required to answer certain questions.

Other items to consider include:

  • If you have questions, ask your attorney in advance because you are not going to be able to pick-up on bodily cues or whisper questions to your attorney during the hearing.
  • It’s very important that if you are going to appear via video with a judge or magistrate, dress professionally. Keep in mind that you may still need to stand when the judge enters and departs the courtroom, even remotely, this means wearing at a minimum, professional clothing.
  • If an attorney represents you, you should not chime into the conversation with counsel, the judge, or magistrate unprompted. Allow your attorney to answer questions on your behalf, as you would if you were physically in court.
  • If your attorney, the judge or magistrate asks you a specific question, you are free to respond.
  • Whether you are attending a hearing by telephone or video, make sure to be in a quiet place. If you are appearing by video, make sure there is nothing inappropriate or distracting in your background.

Remember, you should prepare to appear in court by telephone or video as you would if you were appearing in-person. A more informal environment does not mean your dress or decorum should be informal as well.