As you know, not only has the Governor of Virginia issued Stay-at-Home Orders, but the Supreme Court has also declared a Judicial Emergency during the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic. If you would like to read the most recent Notice from the Supreme Court of Virginia, it can be found here.
Given that the Court handles so many different matters, we wanted to explain what the declaration of Judicial Emergency means for our current and potential new clients.
Generally speaking, the Courts are not hearing any civil matters, except for emergency matters. Divorce, child custody and visitation matters and support matters all fall under this umbrella of ‘civil matters’. Therefore, we can’t have any in person hearings right now. There has been a lot of discussions in the legal community regarding our local jurisdictions hearing limited matters via telephone or internet conferences (WebEx, Zoom, etc.) and most Courts will permit it. Proceeding electronically makes sense for certain issues, such as discovery disputes or other narrow issues that focus on legal argument versus factual disputes. We can use the Court’s willingness to hear these matters electronically to keep moving your case along if we need to. In the future, we will likely be able to offer testimony and evidence remotely so even matters involving factual disputes or with multiple witnesses can be heard electronically as well, we are just not there… yet.
Filing Documents with the Court During COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
Clerk’s Offices remain open and are accepting filings, both of new cases and in existing cases. What does this mean? This means that we can file new cases for divorce, adoption, or petitions for support, custody or visitation like normal and the filing will be processed as usual. We can also reopen prior cases, if there are ongoing enforcement or compliance issues or if there is a basis for modification. This also means that we can file Motions or Petitions. So, the initial steps remain the same. Remember, in some cases, the sooner we file the better, such as cases with child support as the Court can award child support retroactively back to the date of filing.
Additionally, we can file Consent Orders and along those same lines, we can process uncontested divorces. In our recent experience, the actual turn-around time is much faster now than it was previously.
How Does COVID-19 Affect My Pending Case?
The pending cases themselves are not stayed or suspended, meaning we can still continue to focus and work on your case as normal. We can still file Motions, negotiate Consent Orders, issue and respond to discovery, including taking depositions remotely using WebEx, Zoom or other secure online platforms. Mainly, the only thing we cannot do right now, is have an in person hearing or meeting with people. Unless, of course, it is an emergency.
Given that most matters have been continued from the Court’s dockets, now is a great time to focus on negotiation and resolution of matters. Attorneys are available to schedule time to meet with you either by phone or with a virtual meeting, we can set up a virtual four-way conference or even a mediation. Many mediators have been trained in virtual/remote mediation and the mediation companies that we most often use, are ready, willing and able to jump in and help with negotiations.
While it may seem counter intuitive, now is actually a really good time to focus (or refocus) and get things moving with regard to your pending separation or divorce. It’s also a really good time to move forward with matters where hearings are not required, such as many types of adoptions where the papers are reviewed by a Judge. As was mentioned above, the Courts seem to be processing paperwork and fully endorsed Orders much quicker than the months leading up to this COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic.
We understand the most important focus right now is keeping yourself and your family safe and healthy. But if you would like to talk about moving your case along or starting the separation process, please contact us to set up an appointment.