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COVID-19 UPDATE ON MANHATTAN DIVORCE CASES
August 20, 2020
My experience in New York City with respect to post Covid operations has been remarkable. It is truly incredible that the court system has adapted so well in such trying times to accommodate the needs of party litigants.
As a Manhattan matrimonial lawyer, we have seen a rise in domestic violence because of quarantine. The latest update, as stated by the chief justice JANET DIFIORE, is that New York City has been able to accommodate 1500 New Yorkers for in person grand jury service and this is very important because Criminal courts need in person face-to-face time because of the right to confront witnesses.
However, in divorce and child custody cases, the movement towards in person appearances at the courthouse is a bit slower. The courts are looking at innovative ways of relying on technology to ensure that there is justice in the court system for child custody litigants and for divorce litigants. In New York City alone, a program has been instituted that allows for virtual trials in civil matters in Supreme court and this would also appertain to matrimonial matters.
This means that actual trials are being conducted via Skype or other technologies. This program is going to be expanded next week.
I also see that Manhatttan Family Court has opened additional virtual courts and the transition is working almost seamlessly. No question about it, there have been delays caused to preexisting cases
However, with the new protocols being put into place daily, more and more of these obstacles are being met by the Office of Court Administration.New rules as to trials have emerged. Those trial affected by these rules are being expedited so that justice can be had sooner rather than later. These rules are designed to expedite the timeframe in which the case may be heard. These trials are conducted by a judge, rather than a with a relaxed set of rules of evidence. This does not affect divorce and child custody cases so much since they were always heard as bench trials. As for evidence, which is usually placed before court and shown to counsel prior to its admission, is being submitted in the form of an electronic delivery system that can be accessed by the attorneys as well as litigants quite easily and I find the system to be quite user friendly.
As to virtual trials and the admission of evidence, the parties under the new rules would have to consent to the relaxation of the rules of evidence but normally you can expect that will happen because the courts will encourage that. This pilot program that is being tested in New York City will likely be extended to other counties in New York if it works in New York City.
During the pandemic the courts have also established a new order that identifies preliminary Order form as to outstanding issues, and said form is meant to identify issues which can or are resolved by the parties, so that the litigants can focus on the remainder of the issues that are in dispute in order to save the Court some time.
I have been to a few virtual court appearances by now, and I have seen them to be amazingly effective. I have obtained orders of protection, I have vacated orders, I have filed divorce papers and I have had successful movement on my divorce cases Via Skype. These conferences have the judge, the attorneys, and the parties on the screen at the same time and the same issues are raised just as though you were standing in front of a judge.
While this approach is very new, it is likely going to become the norm for a while until we see a vaccine until the pandemic is resolved. In fact, as the attorneys and Judges become more acclimated to this new virtual reality, we are likely going to see a movement toward more proceedings being done virtually.
Some of my colleagues have even tried cases on Skype, although this has been challenging because of the problems involved with tweaks in the virtual technology. However, we will proceed as per the court administration’s direction, to try to follow along until/if the courts reopen. So, it is safe to say that the courts are well on their way toward providing a pathway toward a resolution of your divorce or child custody case in Manhattan and beyond. I hope this information has been helpful and stay healthy and Covid free.
By: Lisa Beth older
Your Manhattan divorce lawyer and Manhattan Custody lawyer.