As if the divorce process wasn’t slow enough already….
Filing a case with the Court and waiting for your spouse to get served takes weeks.
And then you’re gathering financial documents. And filing our financial affidavits. It can take months to get to a first mediation.
But at least everything is moving forward, even if it’s at a snail’s pace.
Now, there is Covid-19. Courthouse doors are shut. People are at home. And we don’t know when things will return to normal.
What happens to my divorce? Is my divorce on pause? Will this divorce ever end?
Our clients need to get through their divorce. It is simply better for their mental, emotional, and financial health to get through the process quickly.
Let’s talk about what our lawyers are doing to help our clients get through the divorce process quickly during our current Covid crisis.
Convert Current Court Hearings to Video or Phone Hearings Immediately
The first thing we did when the Court’s started to close was to move the court hearings, we could to video or telephonic hearings.
Our concern was that lawyers and judges would simply freak out and cancel everything.
Then we are going nowhere.
Instead, we proactively called the attorneys on the other side and told them how great it will be for us to do the cases over the phone or on video. We then followed up with the Judges to let them know we had the other attorney on board.
Importantly, we told them we would handle everything. For video and phone hearings, we would send a simple link to the Judge and the other attorney. We made it clear. It would be easy.
Exhibits? No problem. We offered to help with the file storage to easily share documents between attorneys and the Judges.
And it worked. Our family division only had one hearing canceled over the first two weeks of court closures.
And the best part? Our family law attorneys only had to get half dressed up for court, because only half of their bodies will show on camera.
See our lead divorce trial lawyer Paul looking sharp earlier today for a hearing!
Convert Current Mediations to Video Mediations ASAP
Likewise, we called up the mediators to get our meditations to go as planned.
Some mediators were technological with it and required very little convincing.
For other mediators, we got on a screen share and helped walk them through zoom video conferencing.
After all, everyone has a laptop, iPad, or smartphone. Everyone can do this.
The key is to be proactive. Do not let the other attorney or the mediator get scared and cancel. We need to keep everything moving.
Get a deal done at mediation? Great! Use adobe sign or another digital signing software to get the digital pen to paper.
Consider Using Written Argument for Smaller Court Issues Instead of Oral Argument with The Court
When we think of taking our issues up with the Judge, we think about our attorney making a speaking argument at court hearings in front of a Judge.
But, man, it can sometimes take months just to get 15 minutes in front of a Judge.
What if your attorney could just put the argument in writing, have the Judge review, and then send back an Order?
You probably can! In most courthouses, you can get the Judge to rule on smaller “non-evidentiary issues” without having to go to court.
Need a Judge to order your spouse turn over documents? Go to mediation? Sign an authorization? Even perhaps ask to dismiss a case.
All these things do not require testimony. All these things can be done in writing.
You want to look at the administrative rules in your County. For example, here is the language from the 6th Judicial Circuit’s website (Pinellas and Pasco County):
Use the Court’s Emergency Rule allowing Notarizations Over Video
Family law has a bunch of forms that need to be attested to by the client.
Financial Affidavits, non-military affidavits, settlement agreements. You get the idea.
In normal times that means going to your lawyer’s office or the bank and signing in front of a notary.
We have specific rules that require notaries in Florida to be in person for signings under normal times. But these are not normal times.
Thankfully the Florida Supreme Court was on top of things and temporarily changed the rules to allow swearing and attestation over video.
So, here’s how we are doing it:
Let’s say we have a prepared document for our client to review and sign. We send out a link to our client via text or email to a video chat. When the client clicks on the link the enter a chat where we have the document the client is signing up for review.
Client reviews and we make changes on the spot. When done, we bring our notary into the call and have the client sign electronically. Simple.
Attend Parenting Classes Online Instead of In-Person
Parenting classes are required in all divorces in Florida where there are children involved.
That means you need to attend a parenting class before your divorce is finalized.
That usually means going to a parenting class in person.
The courts are letting our clients attend online parenting classes. Take advantage and get it done asap.
See our list of Tampa Bay area parenting classes here.
Get a Trial or a Hearing on the Books
So, we know that:
- Some trials are being canceled.
- People are not setting many hearings right now because they don’t know what the future holds.
- When this is all over, a ton of people will be setting trials and hearings. Court calendars are going to be slammed.
Therefore, set your trials and hearings now. If you’re early in a case, set a divorce trial in December or January 2021.
Do this even if you don’t think you will go to trial Do this especially if you do not want to go to trial but want to light a fire under your spouses can get things done.
People respond to deadlines. Without a court hearing or trial date on the horizon, we find that many reactive spouses are not motivated to make the tough decisions and negotiate their settlement.
Get a trial or hearing set for tomorrow to increase your chances of settling your case today.
Send More Settlement Demands
This is a basic rule for divorces, but it is important now.
If you have an offer to make, or information that will help shed light on an offer that you want the other side to take, then share it.
Too often, divorce cases stall because one side has absolutely no idea what the other side is looking to get out of the divorce.
Making settlement demands (i.e. offers) frequently helps facilitate getting deals done. You can determine where you are aligned and where you are apart. Attorneys must share demands with their clients, so sending a demand letter will force the other side to communicate.
And that keeps the ball moving forward.
Use Weekly Meetings with Clients to Keep Focused and Move Things Forward
Frequent communication is vital to moving a divorce case forward quickly right now.
Not just any communication. But communication that aligns the divorce team, sets goals, assigns next actions, and then follows up to make sure progress is being made.
When things are moving in a bad direction, frequent communication allows the divorce team to pivot to steer in the right direction.
A basic template that is tried and true:
- Set weekly (or bi-weekly) meeting
- Send out a meeting template that includes topics to cover.
- At meeting, reaffirm the main goal(s) for this divorce.
- Assign next actions for everybody.
- Art next meeting, review to make sure everyone accomplishes their tasks, and
At our firm, we send weekly billing ledgers that spell out all the tasks completed by the divorce team during the week. It is one more tool to make sure everyone is headed full steam in the right direction.
In uncertain times you need to act with certainty to keep your projects moving forward. The same holds true for keeping your divorce moving forward.
Don’t trust that the other lawyer or the Judge will move things forward. They may be more confused (and more nervous) now than ever. Their instinct might be to contract.
Be proactive. Take steps to move everything forward. These are chaotic times. So, control what you can control. Make sure your divorce case moves forward so you can eventually move on with your life.