COVID-19 has permanently changed the way Americans work and live. From online fitness classes to cocktails-to-go, the pandemic shifted how many local companies offered their products and services. Many COVID-related changes will remain in place, including virtual court proceedings.
In a November 2021 order, the Supreme Court of New Jersey announced that many court proceedings will be able to stay virtual, at the judge’s discretion, in 2022 and beyond. The Supreme Court made this decision after considering 132 comments from legal associations, attorneys, and the public.
Many New Jersey divorce and family law proceedings are eligible to be conducted virtually.
Court Didn’t Stop in the Pandemic
All state courthouses are open to the public as of this writing, but it wasn’t always that way. In March 2020, the courts announced the suspension of new civil and criminal jury trials and an extension of deadlines and tolling time periods because court business could not be conducted as usual during the public health crisis.
Like other Americans, the courts transitioned to working remotely. Since the start of the pandemic the courts have conducted the following:
- Judges have conducted more than 260,000 virtual court events.
- Virtual events have involved more than 2.7 million participants.
- Municipal courts have conducted more than 3 million events.
These events coupled with the collection of comments formed the framework for in-person and remote court proceedings.
Benefits of Continuing Virtual Court
Commenters highlighted the value of bringing parties together in person for certain proceedings. Virtual proceedings had tremendous value when the issues before the court were brief and straightforward.
Many attorneys, judges, and involved parties praised virtual court:
- There were fewer scheduling conflicts.
- Less time was required in virtual proceedings.
- Virtual court often resulted in cost savings.
The state Supreme Court outlined specific circumstances in which a proceeding can be virtual or in person.
Issues Eligible for Virtual Court Proceedings
Appearing before the court can be a nerve-wracking experience for many people. The flexibility to address a judge virtually often lessens the emotional or mental burden on the two people wanting to divorce.
Court proceedings that can continue in a virtual format include the following:
- Uncontested divorces
- Uncontested adoptions
- Hearings to establish or modify child support
- Applications for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and initial conferences
Other issues that can be conducted in virtual court include the following:
- Routine motion arguments and case management conferences
- First appearances of defendants in custody
- Most proceedings involving state prisoners
- Landlord/tenant proceedings
- Small claims trials
- Foreclosure mediation
- Uncontested guardianships of persons alleged to be incapacitated
These proceedings are not required to be conducted remotely. A judge may determine to proceed in person when the participants are unable to participate remotely or based on other persuasive reasons in an individual case.
Remote Divorce Mediation
In divorce mediation, a trained, neutral professional meets with the couple in an informal setting. Even before the pandemic, the meetings were sometimes conducted remotely. Teleconferencing and other platforms were necessary, especially when spouses lived in different states.
Our trained mediators have used secure, online conferencing apps to explore solutions, negotiate compromises, and reach agreements on important divorce issues. The password-protected conferencing apps maintain attorney-client confidentiality.
Court Proceedings Conducted In-Person
As convenient and effective as the virtual court is in some situations, other proceedings are still best conducted in person.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has identified these matters to return to the courtroom:
- Criminal jury trials
- Sentencing hearings in criminal, family, and municipal matters
- Trials on Final Restraining Orders and Final Protective Orders
- Dispositional hearings in all juvenile delinquency matters
- Evidentiary hearings and bench trials in criminal matters
- Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (FERPO) hearings
- Megan’s Law hearings
- Municipal matters with a reasonable likelihood of a jail sentence, loss/suspension of license, and evidentiary hearings
- Trials for the termination of parental rights
- Hearings related to incapacity and appointment of a permanent guardian
- Oral arguments before the state Supreme Court and the Appellate Division
- Certain criminal court proceedings involving defendants not in custody
In matters that are conducted in person, judges may permit one or more participants to participate virtually based on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
Technology and the Divorce Process
COVID-19 pushed the courts, attorneys, and the public to embrace the use of technology. The future will include the use of remote options to expand access, participation, and timeliness. Our attorneys at Lane & Lane, LLC are skilled at representing our clients’ best interests in all formats, both in the courtroom and through virtual platforms.
We also respect the preferences of our clients. We offer in-person meetings as well as video conferencing, video consultations, and phone consultations.
If you are considering divorce, we are open and available to discuss your case. To schedule a free initial consultation, call (908) 259-6673 or submit our convenient online form.