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In the more than two months since the pandemic began closing courthouses in the U.S., many judges have become familiar enough with video conference technology in handling essential cases that they are now utilizing it for non-essential cases like uncontested divorces. About half of the states do not require a court hearing to finalize an uncontested divorce, but in the states that do, the process is changing to allow testimony that would have been given in open court, to be given remotely by phone or video hearing, or by filing a notarized affidavit.
To get an uncontested divorce set for final hearing, the same procedure is followed as before COVID-19. However, once the hearing is on the judge’s calendar, the spouse who filed for divorce also files a motion or request asking for the case be heard remotely by video or phone.
Most of the tips for finalizing an uncontested divorce by video hearing are the same as for a hearing in front of a judge. Obviously video hearings require either a smartphone or a computer with a camera. Equally important is a stable internet connection. Sound issues are the most common problem encountered with video hearings and they are generally the result of weak Wi-Fi. Depending on the stability of your internet connection, it may be necessary to ensure that sure no one else at your home is using your Wi-Fi during your hearing. Since most courts are conducting hearings using Zoom, it is a good idea to download the app for free and try it out with someone else before the actual hearing.
In some counties, judges prefer that testimony be given by a written affidavit rather than remotely by video or phone. In these counties, the spouse that filed for divorce signs an Affidavit of Testimony in front of a Notary Public and then files it with the Court Clerk. The content of the affidavit mirrors the testimony that would have been given at an actual hearing, either by video or in-court, namely that the state’s requirements for a divorce have been met. In some states, depositions may be preferred over affidavits. Affidavits and depositions both use notarized documents to finalize a divorce without a hearing.
It will be interesting to see if courts continue to hold uncontested divorce hearings remotely once it is deemed safe to resume in-court hearings. If judges have time to become comfortable with using video hearings, they will be more likely to continue to use them even after it is no longer necessary. Advocates cite lower costs and efficiency as well as reducing stress on the parties as reasons why video hearings should remain an option permanently. Arranging childcare and transportation is a struggle for many as is taking time off work, so particularly in uncontested divorce cases, where the parties have a written agreement resolving all issues, requiring them to appear in person at the courthouse may be more of a burden than a benefit.