COVID-19 has had many devastating effects on Florida residents, and unfortunately, one of these effects is a rise in divorce rates. Experts know that stress from external sources can wreak havoc on a relationship, so the pandemic’s casualties seem to be not only medical, financial, and emotional – but relational as well.

However, protective actions against the virus also caused shutdowns and slowdowns of court systems. Because of the anticipated backlog of cases, the Supreme Court of Florida decided in May of 2020 to allow virtual hearings for divorce cases. 

Florida Divorce Proceedings 

Florida divorce requirements are relatively basic and straightforward. Divorce is allowable as long as one or both of the couple has resided in Florida for a minimum of six months. According to Florida law, spouses looking to divorce do not have to prove specific “grounds”; instead they need only to maintain an irretrievably broken marriage.

When both parties agree to the divorce, several key issues need to be worked through before a divorce can be finalized. These include the division of assets, agreements for spousal support, and custody and child support. If parties can iron out these issues, a quick divorce may be granted. If not, the court may require hearings.  

Virtual Divorce Hearings 

Under the May 2020 order, chief judges were directed to utilize technology to allow for the judicial proceedings to continue regardless of the state’s recovery stage. Virtual hearings represent a significant shift in the manner in which Florida court proceedings have traditionally been conducted. While in-person proceedings have been the norm, virtual proceedings can benefit individuals even beyond the pandemic’s reach. 

Although virtual hearings are new, most people are comfortable at this point with using video conferencing. For anyone looking to conduct a virtual divorce proceeding, here are a few helpful hints. 

* Have the Right Technology: Individuals should have a reliable internet connection and a computer or device capable of supporting streaming video software. Phones are not recommended as views are limited on a small screen. Your attorney may recommend conducting the virtual hearing from their office should you not have the right equipment or do not feel comfortable attending the meeting on your own. 

* Know the Procedures: One of the downsides of familiarity with video conferencing is a sense of casual behavior. However, even if it is a virtual hearing, court rules still apply, and protocols are still in effect. You will still need to be prepared with all applicable paperwork and be ready for formal questioning. Keep in mind that you are not permitted to record the hearing without permission or have other individuals privy to the hearing if not approved. 

* Strategize with your Attorney: If you are not in the same room as your attorney, be sure to develop a plan as to how you can communicate during the hearing. Will you text each other, phone on the breaks, or set up a private chat in the video streaming application? Go over your plan well before the hearing and, if need be, practice to be comfortable with how to ask a question or receive advice during the proceeding. 

* Be professional: Even if the proceeding is virtual, act as if you are physically in court and front of a judge. Dress professionally, make sure the television is turned off, keep children and pets out of the area and eliminate distractions. Be sure to act polite throughout the hearing, just as you would in person.

Like many businesses, courts may decide that virtual hearings are convenient and cost-effective to conduct proceedings. While the future remains to be seen, virtual meetings appear to have taken hold in all aspects of life and business. 

If you are considering divorce or bankruptcy in the Sarasota area, call the law firm of attorney Richard V. Ellis. We’ll help you navigate the legal process and provide the information you need.