More Thoughts On What Divorce/Family Court Are Like As Long Island Has Entered Phase Two

Long Island Law Firms have entered Phase Two and are now allowed to be physically open. So after approximately three months of remote work our office is now open. The Family & Supreme Court are also "open" but not in the same way that they were before the Corona Virus. Within my own law firm we offer clients and prospective clients the option of in person appointments (with masks and social distancing), Zoom Conference and telephone consults. What is new is utilizing Zoom, however it is so easy and so convenient that I can see it continuing in popularity even after the Corona Virus pandemic is eventually resolved. Zoom saves clients the time of driving to and from my office. I had one consult today who did a Zoom conference with me while he sat in his parked car. The one downside of that virtual meeting is that if there were any documents that were to be shown to me, they would have had to scan or fax them to me prior to the meeting.

The Divorce Parts of the Supreme Court and the Judicial and Referee Parts of the Family Court have been utilizing telephone and Skype For Business Conferences. While there may be certain select cases  such as Orders of Protection where the Judge has directed an in person appearance in the courthouse, most of the somewhat routine status conferences are being held remotely. One of the exceptions is often where either one or both parties are unrepresented by attorneys. In most cases where a party is self-represented the Court will want the conference "on the record" which means that a stenographic or taped record of the conference must take place. While even that can be done remotely, it is easier to do so in the courtroom as the reporter will have an easier time of hearing and correctly identifying who is speaking because voices can drop out or be obscured dependent upon the quality of the phone or Zoom connection.

Due to the lower volume of cases that can be handled on any given day by the Court since scheduling is critical and the judges and their law clerks may not handle the same volume due to the additional emails, contacts, and phone calls necessary for scheduling it is taking longer for matters to be scheduled and heard. For example, a document that the attorneys would draft in the courthouse and then have the clients sign and then present to the judge now has to be circulated and scanned via email between the attorneys and clients, remotely signed and then uploaded to the court and then the judge has to sign it and have the clerk email it to the attorneys all of which takes a simple process and elongates it into several steps.  Child Support cases in the Family Court have largely been on hold during the shutdown.  Custody and visitation cases have been been conferenced on a limited basis, absent an emergency. 

So patience will be required by the Court, the Court Clerks, clients and attorneys as we all work towards the "new normal".  I suspect it will still be several months before lawyers, clients and others are "welcomed" back into the courthouse for business as usual.  While the amount of cases may be the same, the ability to have the same number of people going in and out everyday in a safe manner has led to changes, many of which are still being developed.