Covid-19 is about to become Covid-21 after New Years, so I think it’s time we settle in and get comfortable with the idea of remote court hearings. Whether you’re using WebEx or Zoom, virtual hearings exist to safely connect you to the courtroom now that judges are holding very limited in-person proceedings. Although this eliminates the need to take a full day off of work to drive to the courthouse and stand in front of a judge, litigants can’t expect to just “phone it in”
even if they are actually phoning it in. Although the hearing might be happening in your home office, the rules of courtroom etiquette still very much apply in a court of law. Here are some tips on how to handle yourself in a virtual courtroom without acting a fool.
- Be on time. There’s no traffic or parking to contend with, so litigants should be on time, right? RIGHT?! Unfortunately, people still find ways of being late to court in the comfort of their own homes. Be sure to log-in for a WebEx/Zoom hearing at least 15 minutes before it begins. If this is your first time using a video conferencing tool, try logging in 30 minutes beforehand to check your connection and your equipment. If the meeting hasn’t started when you arrive, don’t leave! Remain logged in and connected until the meeting begins. In court, there’s no such thing as “fashionably late.”
- Be mindful of your surroundings. This is just a really polite way of saying that the judge doesn’t want to hear your TV blaring, your kids fighting, or your dog wylin out at the UPS truck for the third time that day. Find a quiet space for the duration of the meeting, even if it means leaving your house because your neighbor decided to weed whack on a Tuesday afternoon. If you live with small children, arrange for childcare during that time. If there are other adults in the home, let them know what’s going on in advance so you will not be disturbed.
- No eating. I don’t care if it’s lunchtime and you’re on your 16th hour of intermittent fasting, do NOT rip open a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos in the middle of your court hearing. Even if you’re being quiet, no one wants to watch you eat. Your attorney’s starving too, but they’re settling for a glass of water. Do better.
- Give it a test drive. Even if you’re used to video conferences, it’s always a good idea to test your laptop and phone capabilities before the meeting begins. Another tip? Make sure your camera is aimed properly—no one wants to endure hours of staring at your ceiling fan.
- Be Ready. You should receive the meeting ID number (or code) along with all the necessary information about how to log-in to WebEx or Zoom well before the scheduled court hearing. Be prepared. Instead of ignoring the email once you receive it, read through it and save it for later. If you haven’t received any information regarding log-in, let your attorney know well in advance.
- Look presentable. Being at home isn’t an excuse to wear sweatpants and a graphic tee to a court hearing! It might be virtual, but first impressions still matter, and you don’t want to make a bad one on the judge. Dress professionally, and NOT just from the top up. Give the occasion the respect it deserves.
- Check your internet connection. Virtual divorce court may go on for hours, so before you decide on a location, be sure that you have a strong, reliable internet connection. Obviously things happen (power outages, for example), but if you know there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll be kicked out of the meeting every five minutes, find a better alternative.
- Get a hold of yourself, Janet! If you have a nervous tic, be aware of it (because trust me, everyone else will be). If you tend to bite your nails, sit on your hands. If you fidget or click your fingers, hold a stress ball instead. If you cough, grunt, or sniff…don’t.
- Check your background. Seriously, do it. Look behind you. Is there dirty underwear on the floor? Do you have a risque fireman poster hanging on the wall? Is that your bra hanging on the door knob? Your camera will be on for hours, so even if you don’t notice it, everyone else will. If it’s embarrassing or unprofessional, take care of it before everyone sees your dirty laundry (literally).
- This is a courtroom, behave accordingly. It might feel more relaxed than an in-person visit to the courtroom, but virtual hearings are still hearings. You are still appearing in front of a judge and it’s still important to use proper titles and speak only when spoken to (remember, always state your name clearly before speaking).
- Know when (and when not) to use the mic. Always put your phone on mute while you’re listening. When it’s your turn to speak, remember to turn your mic back on. Do not address the court on speakerphone. Opt for earbuds with a built-in mic, a headset with a microphone, or the handset of your phone.
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Phone Calls. If the year was 1989, then a phone call would be a no-brainer. Fortunately for couples who can’t be civil to save their lives, this isn’t the only form of communication available to them in 2020. Saying that, phone calls are still recommended in certain situations. In the event of an emergency, a phone call might be necessary or even expected. If you have a healthy relationship with your co-parent, phone calls can be a great way of delivering news regarding your child. Saying that, we do suggest that you keep any phone conversation brief and to-the-point. The longer you stay on the phone, the more time you have to remember why you divorced in the first place.
Text Messaging. Any millennial or introvert will tell you that receiving a text is far superior to receiving a phone call, and in many cases, they’d be right. If you’re running late to drop off your child with your co-parent, a quick text is definitely the best way to let them know. Text messages are also a convenient way to answer quick questions that don’t require a lengthy discussion, but AVOID sending long paragraphs expressing your thoughts and feelings. Remember, text messages can be captured via screenshots without you knowing, so don’t lose your cool and say something that can be used against you in court.
Virtual Calls (FaceTime, Zoom, Etc.). Virtual calls have really been a lifesaver in 2020, particularly with families being separated by COVID. If you find yourself separated by your kids due to the pandemic, or just over the holidays, virtual calls are definitely the way to go. Think twice before you have a FaceTime call with your ex, however, particularly if emotions are running hot (…or if their stupid face makes you angry).
Emails. E-mails are definitely the way to go if you want a record of your communication. As always, be sure to keep your temper in check and not say anything inflammatory that can be used against you later on. Emails are great for discussing anything at length since they can be saved and documented (they’re also a great way to communicate holiday plans).