By now, it’s no secret that COVID-19 has completely changed the way we communicate with each other. From virtual birthday parties to working remotely, it seems that just about every aspect of our lives has gone virtual. Family law attorneys and the family law courts have been forced to quickly adapt to this new normal, and now, just about every family law hearing is held online through a video platform. Whether you have a full day hearing about spousal support or are going through divorce mediation, all you have to do is log on. Simple, right? Not for one Texas attorney, who was unable to remove a cat filter from his face during a virtual court hearing, and is now famously quoted as telling the judge, “I’m not a cat.”
Despite the virtual trial “bloopers” that have given many of us a good laugh, we know your family law case is no laughing matter. Appearing in trial virtually will have the same impact on your family’s future as it would if you appeared in person. So, how can you best prepare for your virtual hearing to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible?
- Download the video application ahead of time: Many video applications offer a free version, so there should not be a cost to you to download the application. It is a good idea to download the application ahead of time and to practice using the platform before your trial date. At GEM Family Law, our attorneys have become adept at using the virtual platforms utilized by courts, and our clients have found that practicing with their lawyer in advance of their hearing can help with comfortability and familiarity.
- Do a test run: Familiarize yourself with all of the settings and buttons. You don’t want to be toggling with the volume button while you are trying to listen to testimony or instruction from the judge, nor do you want to accidentally send a message intended for your attorney only to the entire courtroom. Most video platforms, like Webex, offer test runs and tutorials. If you will be using headphones or other in-ear device, be sure that you have no issues with the sound and connection to your device.
- Make sure you have a good internet connection: Set up your computer, tablet, or phone in a place that has a stable internet connection. You may need to check a few spots in your home, but the best place is usually close to the router. After you find the right spot with a good connection, make sure that all other applications on your device are closed and that other family members are not using up bandwidth. If you do not have reliable internet access, find a place that has good and reliable cell service. At GEM Family Law, we have customarily offered one of our conference rooms or our library to clients who are nervous about appearing virtually from their home and without their support team nearby.
- Have a backup: While technology has helped us all immensely over the course of the Pandemic, it can still fail from time to time. If you are using your computer, have your phone or tablet available as a backup. If you end up using two devices at once (one for video and one for audio), make sure you mute one of the devices used for video to avoid unnecessary feedback.
- Find a quiet, private place for your hearing: One of the benefits of a virtual family court hearing is the ability to appear from the comfort of your own home. That being said, you want to find a space in your home where you are comfortable speaking about your case and out of earshot of other family members, especially children. While doing your test run, set up your computer in the space that you will be using during the family court hearing, so that you can make sure that you can arrange for a space free of distraction. Remove any objects that may appear in the background that may be inappropriate or that you would like to keep private. Remember: these virtual family court proceedings are live, and everyone, including the judge, will be able to see your screen. With that in mind, you will want to dress as if you were going to appear in person.
Being prepared can help you feel more confident going into your mediation or hearing. If you have any trouble getting set up, during your test run, or right before your virtual family court hearing, you can always contact your family law attorney for assistance. Now that you have some tips to help you successfully navigate your virtual family court hearing, you can sit back, relax, and just log on.