Family Law During COVID-19: Tips for Participating in Remote Court Appearances

 Posted on February 23, 2021 in Family Law

DuPage County remote court appearancesThe world as we knew it has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes how domestic relations court proceedings are being handled. After initially halting court proceedings in March and April of 2020, courts in most counties in the state of Illinois have now mastered dealing with the pandemic restrictions and have implemented remote procedures, including those for statuses, pre-trials, settlement conferences, temporary hearings, prove-ups, and even multi-day evidentiary trials.

In some ways, the pandemic has made the domestic relations process easier for families. For example, litigants do not have to deal with the hassle of driving to court, parking, going through security, or finding the right courtroom. Instead, litigants can attend court from the comfort of their own home or office. For example, in DuPage County, the court currently allows individuals who have entered into a complete agreement with their spouse to get divorced without ever having to come to court at all.  Instead, they can simply submit affidavits to the court along with their proposed agreements.  

However, when a case is contested and parties are unable to resolve their differences amicably, there is still a need for regular and sometimes frequent court appearances.  Since courts have moved to largely a remotely operated system, it’s important to understand the rules and expectations of the process.  Almost every county in Illinois is operating using the Zoom video platform. To be prepared, you should have this downloaded onto your computer or phone well in advance of your scheduled court date. It is also important to become familiar with the Zoom platform beforehand.  In particular, become familiar with the video and audio settings, so that you are comfortable using it and the Judge and attorneys can see and hear you when your case is called. This will save a significant amount of time. To obtain the zoom login information for your case, visit the county clerk of court website.

Typically, there is a standing order or link to remote hearings that you can access to find your case login information.  The standing order may also contain procedures for Zoom or the litigation process that you or your attorney should be familiar with.  Once you logon to a remote court appearance, you should remain visible but mute your microphone until the Judge calls your case. Please note that some counties do allow litigants without a camera to call in, but Judges seem to prefer actually seeing litigants when issuing their orders.

As a general matter, litigants should treat remote court appearances with the same level of formality as they would attending court in person. This means that you should be logged in and waiting at least 5 minutes early and also be dressed appropriately. Yes, this means wearing pants even though no one can see them! You should also find a quiet and private location to participate in the proceeding. It is extremely distracting for your attorney and the Judge if there is activity or unnecessary noise in the background.  Further, judges have admonished litigants not to drive while participating in Zoom court appearances. 

During a remote hearing or court appearance, it is important to respect other attendants. Remote proceedings cannot be recorded on your cell phone or any other device, so it would be wise to have those devices turned off and out of sight. During a remote hearing or trial, a court reporter will likely be present. Litigants should refrain from interrupting or talking over the attorneys, the Judge, or other litigants. This not only makes things difficult for the court reporter to transcribe what everyone is saying, but it makes it difficult for the Judge to clearly hear the attorneys’ arguments or testimony from witnesses.

Additionally, as with in-person court, you should be prepared with your case number, necessary documents, and a notepad to take notes and record your next court date. In some cases, the judge will prepare the order and in others the judge will expect the litigant or attorney to prepare and submit the order electronically or via email.  Either way, the order typically needs to be obtained from the clerk’s website or judge’s secretary after the judge has approved and signed it.

If your case is scheduled for a remote hearing or trial, it is extremely important to have any exhibits you intend to use organized.  Specifically, during remote hearings or trials, many Judges rely on exhibits being screenshared so everyone can see and reference them. Courtesy copies of your exhibits and the relevant pleadings should be submitted to the Judge or the Judge’s clerk prior to the hearing. This has become an even more imperative step in the preparation process during the pandemic, as there are sometimes technical issues that may arise, and it is important for the Judge to be able to access a copy of the necessary exhibits.

Being prepared for court, even remotely, is just as important as it has always been. Therefore, it is imperative that litigants remain informed as to the ever-changing court procedures and requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our attorneys are experienced in preparing for and litigating cases remotely. If you are seeking to initiate court proceedings or need help with an ongoing case, please contact our office for a free consultation.

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