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It’s been about a year since the coronavirus pandemic affected every area of daily life and our Arizona court system was no exception. If you’ve been involved in any legal proceeding in the last 12 months, you have undoubtedly been impacted by significant changes and some becoming permanent. The COVID-19 pandemic has made life more complicated for all of us on so many different levels.

The following blog explains changes within the court systems, what to expect when working with your attorney and even your own family interaction in this coronavirus pandemic era.

THE COURTS

Safe distancing guidelines have prompted most court activities to go virtual with mask requirements and temperature checks for any in-person proceedings. And when in-person proceedings are required, the courts are asking only essential people to attend. Others are allowed to listen to proceedings by phone or video conference.

Electronic filing of documents is encouraged when possible and most hearings are being held virtually. In Family Court, the starting document called the Petition that will open a case still has to be filed physically first and is not allowed to be filed by electronic upload via ECR or Turbo Court. Later electronic filings are allowed. So we have a combination of “by hand” and online/electronic submission allowances.

Reduction of in-person contact will likely remain the norm for the foreseeable future to continue protecting the public and Court personnel. In Maricopa County, the Superior Court is pioneering the use of Teams from MS Office that was fashioned for virtual hearings and responds very similar to Zoom and GoToMeeting.

WORKING WITH YOUR ATTORNEY

Like the courts, many attorneys shifted from in-person to online consultations using Zoom, GoToMeeting, or other virtual communication platforms. In the last few months, or the first quarter of 2021, many people/clients and customers demand Zoom over in-person meetings even though COVID-19 rates are going down and we have coronavirus vaccines now.

Documents are prepared and emailed for client review, revisions, corrections, and discussion. Almost all documents, after a case is opened, can be filed through AZ Turbo Court’s ECR. Most hearings and meetings can also be done via audio call or by Zoom, GoToMeeting or Microsoft Teams, i.e. virtual meetings. So, the entire case can be done without any contact. Many practitioners are deciding to “go completely virtual.”

In both mediation and in collaborative cases, all of the processes can be done privately outside of the court system with mediators and collaboratively-trained lawyers and other professionals on the team. All the meetings and mediations are pre-scheduled via email, documents and exhibits are prepared and emailed for review in advance, and then all meetings are conducted virtually. All follow up agreements, decrees and stipulations can be reviewed and executed without in-person meetings. At McMurdie Law & Mediation, we prefer some in-person contact and still want to have final signing meetings in person, if clients are amenable to it.

FAMILIES

The reality is that the coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted parenting time or visitation and the involved minor children in a divorce (or post-divorce) setting.

In some cases, families have opted for children to remain with one parent to minimize COVID-19 transmission or utilized virtual parenting time to stay connected with their children. In other cases, the entire neighborhood opts to stay involved and keep their exposure to important social cloisters for support and even to share in home education among close neighbors or family members.

While not a perfect solution, virtual parenting time is a positive course to follow to allow continuous contact and communication between a parent and child, sustaining the parental bond during the COVID-19 pandemic when an in-person visit might not be in the best interests of a child because of potential exposure. Of course, many whole families have now had the virus close in time to one another which mean that they likely share immunity and can entertain in-person meetings or stay living together. In Arizona this seems to be occurring more often than early last year.

McMurdie Law and Mediation is dedicated to helping clients develop resolutions that are healthy and beneficial to all parties. Mediation can be held using any modality available by computer, whether it’s a Zoom, FaceTime, or another similar software. We are also currently still meeting with clients as they request and following CDC protocols. Call McMurdie Law and Mediation at 480-777-5500 today to schedule a consultation.