Colorado courts are using video conferencing in family law cases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Larimer County District Court, including Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor began video conferencing in early May whereas the Weld County District Court, including Greeley, began video conferencing towards the end of May. We provide this blog to share what the Courts are currently doing to manage family law cases during the COVID 19 pandemic and to ensure that you are prepared to appear virtually in front of the judge.
How to be at Your Best While Video Conferencing with the Judge
When it comes to video conferencing it is important to consider “video etiquette.” Just as you would dress up for an in person court appearance, you should do the same for video. When considering video etiquette you should also take into account your background physically behind you and on your computer, any potential distractions, and noise. Here are few tips:
What to Wear
- Dress in semi-formal attire, think of it as you are going to interview.
- Avoid busy patterns that may be distracting.
- Avoid dangle earrings or flashy jewelry.
- Do your hair, that means the hair on your head and facial hair if applicable. Your upper body and face will likely be the only part of you that will be seen in the video and it’s important to look prepared.
Limit Potential Distractions
- Do you have pets that may try to come in and out of the room? You may consider putting them outside or locking them in another room temporarily so they do not barge in or scratch at the door.
- If you have children, you may want to consider hiring child care for the duration of the court appearance. Some trials can go for several hours so be sure to check with your attorney to determine how long care may be needed.
- Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent. If you are using your phone to join the video conference, considering temporarily muting or turning off any notifications, such as new emails, texts, and reminders. Some devices will automatically do this for you!
Consider your Background
- Do you have posters, family photos, or other wall items that you may not want a judge or others to see? Consider what the background will be when you are seated and looking at the camera.
- What is the background on your computer? There may be a rare circumstance where you need to participate in a screen share of your computer (although your attorney will likely do all of the sharing for you). Is your background “work appropriate?”
- Close out any unnecessary tabs on your computer or phone that may be visible if you had to share your screen. Be sure to close out emails, banking info, social media, and any other windows that may reveal confidential information.
Status Conference via Video Conferencing
Divorce and child custody cases are managed by the judge or magistrate by conducting regular status conferences, to ensure the needs of the case are being met, the parties are complying with deadlines and to ensure the mandatory exchange of disclosures. The Courts are continuing to conduct status conferences by phone but with the opportunity for “face to face” conferencing, the Courts are encouraging attorneys and clients to appear by video.
Contested Divorce or Custody Trials via Video Conferencing
When the parties cannot agree and have to leave it up to the judge to decide contested divorce and custody issues, the Courts are conducting evidentiary hearings and full trials by video conference. Witnesses will be called to testify by video and will be cross examined, and the attorneys will object to improper questions and the judge will rule on the objections, as would be expected in an in person hearing. Exhibits will be offered into evidence, and the witnesses will be able to view the exhibits when testifying by video via screen share or other means. Exhibits can be provided in advance to witnesses who will testify by phone if video is unavailable.
Is Your Attorney Appearing on Video During Important Court Appearances?
While many attorneys continue to phone into status conferences with the Court, others are choosing to join by video for substantive court appearances. The attorneys at the Cossitt Law Firm are appearing by video for both status conferences and hearings. In additional to the regular trial preparation for our clients, your family law attorney at the Cossitt Law Firm is happy to practice video conferencing with you prior to conferences and hearings so you can feel confident, just as we would prepare you in advance of going to court in person.
What to Expect
- When you enter into the virtual courtroom all parties will likely be muted. Identify where your mute/unmute button is on your screen as you will need to mute and unmute yourself when you are addressed by the judge.
- Identical to in person court appearances, the Judge will lead the proceedings and engage the attorney and parties when it is their turn to speak.
- If you are represented by an attorney, they may be asked to share their screen to present items to the court.
- Remember that practice can help ease stress and uncertainty. If you are a client of the Cossitt Law Firm we are happy to have conference and trial preparation over video conference to help familiarize you with the process
Have a Backup Plan
Our last piece of advice is to have a backup plan! Computers crash, the internet can be slow at times and distractions can happen. Ensure your cell phone is available in the event the video conferencing on the computer is not working as it should. Have paper copies of the pleadings, any potential exhibit, and some blank pages for notes. Rest assured that problems will occur, and the judge should be understanding as we all adapt to utilizing video conferencing while staying safer at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.