By: Stephen J. Plog
How the courts conduct business has significantly changed due to COVID-19. With a governmental ban on large gatherings in place, the family law courts in Colorado have updated their practices to eliminate in-person hearings for all but emergency cases, with a few exceptions. Whether your divorce case was in its final stages when the pandemic started or you are looking to file for divorce today, the process moving forward may look different than it would have during pre-pandemic conditions.
What to Expect During a Remote Hearing
One of the most drastic changes within Colorado’s court system has been swapping in-person hearings for virtual ones. If your divorce case requires a trial, your county’s district court may opt to conduct it virtually, using videoconferencing technology, in lieu of an in-person hearing. Remote hearings keep participants safe by avoiding person-to-person contact and the possible transmittance of the coronavirus.
Judges are still moving forward with divorce decrees and other family law cases during COVID-19. Rather than hearing these cases in person, however, most judges are working remotely. Your lawyer can help you file for divorce and navigate the remote hearing process in Colorado. Generally, most counties require that you and your spouse must both consent to do the hearing remotely. This consent requirement does not apply to lesser court events, such as status conferences. The judge will then set a date and time, as well as give you information about what remote tools he or she plans to use. Most courts in Colorado are utilizing WebEx.
Most judges prefer videoconferencing technology so they can see the parties involved and their attorneys. If you do not have access to a computer or device to attend a videoconferencing hearing, however, your lawyer can let the judge know to potentially alter the plans. Once the hearing commences, you and your Denver divorce attorney will have the ability to state your case and speak with the judge as you normally would during an in-person hearing. In the event that a client does not have access to appropriate technology, we have been able to have them use on of our devices, in our office, sequestered in a separate room.
How to Prepare for a Video Hearing
If you and your spouse agree to a video hearing for your divorce case, prepare with help from your divorce attorney. Start by reading over the instructions for conducting business in one of Colorado’s virtual courtrooms, given by the Colorado Judicial Branch. Read the instructions for how to join your virtual courtroom when your hearing date arrives. Prepare for your virtual court date ahead of time for the most seamless process.
- Test out your videoconferencing equipment ahead of time.
- Plan to do the hearing in a quiet location with high-quality internet service.
- Dress professionally, as you would for an in-person hearing.
- Confer with your lawyer before the hearing as to how you will communicate privately, such as through text, if your lawyer will not be with you in person.
- Make sure your device is plugged in or has plenty of battery life. Your hearing could take a few hours or longer.
- Go to a place with little to no background noise. Avoid using speakerphone mode.
- Only one person may talk at a time. Wait for your turn to talk and do not interrupt.
Your lawyer will be able to walk you through the process and explain what to expect. Your legal team can help you prepare for your video hearing as well as defend your rights during the hearing itself. If your hearing encounters any technical problems, your attorney can speak with the judge on your behalf to arrange work towards fixing the technical issue.
Cases Courts Continue to Conduct Hearings On
The Colorado courts may decide to hear your divorce case in person during the pandemic if it meets one of your county court’s exceptions. Each court has the right to determine which cases, if any, it will continue to hear in person. In some counties, the courts will still conduct emergency hearings, such as those involving domestic violence or threats to child welfare, in person. Your family lawyer will be able to let you know if you qualify for an in-person hearing. If not, your lawyer can represent you during a video divorce hearing in Colorado. While the conducting of video hearings has presented various challenges for both courts and family law attorneys, the process has shown to be fairly user friendly for the litigants.