The Courts Are Closed. Now What?
By Jessica Bullock
NC Family Law Specialist
Partner, Woodruff Family Law Group
If you have a family law case pending in any county in the Piedmont Triad, your case is likely on hold in the court system due to the closures caused by COVID-19. Currently, our courts are closed until June 1, 2020; however, that is subject to change like most other things in our world today. During these closures, the courts are only hearing limited family law issues, which include matters such as temporary restraining orders, domestic violence and emergency custody.
Do you have to sit around and wait months and months for a hearing? Not necessarily! There are several options available. Your divorce lawyer can tell if one of these options is appropriate for your case.
The first option is mediation, where the parties and their attorneys hire a third-party neutral mediator to attempt to resolve the issues in your case. Currently, mediations are mostly being held remotely through video conferencing software such as WebEx. In most cases, NC Statutes require that equitable distribution, alimony and custody be mediated prior to hearings; therefore, this is a great opportunity to complete required mediation if you are able.
Have you tried mediation and it was unsuccessful? Another option is arbitration, which is set up like a court hearing, with an arbitrator (who is a family lawyer) serving as your Judge. Testimony, witnesses and exhibits are presented just as you would in court, and the Arbitrator issues a ruling as a Judge would. Your arbitration award is then confirmed by the Courts as a court order. This can be a very effective tool to have your matter heard and completed efficiently. Woodruff Family Law Group has experience navigating the arbitration process. Talk with your lawyer to see if this option is appropriate for your case.
Remote Court Hearings
Remote court hearings are an option in certain matters in certain counties. Guilford County has issued a set of guidelines to determine which matters are eligible to be heard through remote channels. The first requirement is that both parties must consent to proceed with a remote hearing. Guilford County courts are hearing matters such as post-separation support, temporary custody and child support, as well as certain discovery and other legal argument motions. They are time-limited, and you are also limited on the number of exhibits you may present; however, these online hearings can serve as a valuable tool to keep your case going while you wait for the courts to reopen. Randolph County, on the other hand, has a different set of guidelines, and they are mandating that certain hearings occur remotely, such as temporary custody proceedings. Please visit the COVID tab on our website to read more about each county’s set of guidelines.
While these times may be extremely frustrating if you need the court’s assistance, please talk with your attorney to determine if there are ways to move your case forward in the interim. We are here to help!