Over the last couple years, the courts have updated their practices regarding hearings and pretrials. Most of domestic relations courts are utilizing virtual hearings, whether that is for a pre-trial, settlement conference or trial. Despite doing virtual court appearances for the last two years, it can still be difficult to understand the process and know what to expect.
PREPARING FOR A VIRTUAL HEARING
First, your attorney will appear on the call with you and will send you the login information prior to the court date. Typically, the court will admit the attorneys into the call first and leave the clients in the waiting room. At other times, the court will admit attorneys and clients into the hearings immediately. The majority of the calls will be recorded to be maintained in the court record.
Prior to the call, it is important for the client to be in a quiet location with a plain background. A client should remember the judge will be determining the allocation of custody and division of their finances, so they want to make a good impression. I advise my clients to test the computer audio and microphone settings while waiting to be called into the meeting. It is good practice to also have the dial-in information, so if there is a bad audio connection, they can use their phone to call into the phone line. In addition, a client should know how to effectively mute and unmute themself. If the hearing is utilizing the Zoom application, the microphone icon is at the bottom left of the screen.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING THE HEARING?
The court will primarily communicate with your attorney, and they will tell your story. Typically, the court will start with the Plaintiff first and their attorney regarding the status of the case. After that, they will go to the Defendant’s attorney.
If the court wants to hear from the clients, they will ask the clients questions directly. At that time, you may unmute your microphone and answer the respective questions. Certain hearings will require the parties to be sworn in to give testimony. Sometimes that means the parties only have to say their name and address, where at other times, they will have to answer more detailed questions.
Most of the courts will have the parties’ final evidentiary hearing in person. However, if it is on Zoom there are additional steps the attorneys will need to take prior to the court date. At an evidentiary hearing, the parties are allowed to present exhibits in addition to the witnesses’ testimony. For a virtual hearing, the exhibits will be presented by the respective attorney who will share their screen. A client may be asked about the exhibit on the screen and should understand the document they are reviewing on the record.
VIRTUAL HEARINGS PROVIDE ADDED BENEFITS
Overall, virtual hearings can be cost effective for clients because the attorneys have reduced travel time to the court. Further, the courts schedule can accommodate more hearings in a day and parties often schedule dates sooner after filing the action. Once a client knows the process, virtual hearings are efficient and beneficial to their case.