Family Law

Family Law News Issue 2, 2020, Volume 42, No. 2

Message from the Chair

Stephen A. Montagna, CFLS

Well that escalated quickly. It’s been over two months since a state of emergency was declared in response to Covid-19. My how things have changed. I remember what my calendar looked like back then. Multiple hearings scheduled on the law and motion calendar, new client consults, a smattering of trials, board meetings, and CLE programs. Ah yes, the life of a family law practitioner. Too busy to realize just how busy you are but also too busy to care. Then poof—just like that—all of it gone, rescheduled to some date in the future. There will be a future, right? Yes. There will be a future. However, I’m not so sure what that future looks like, especially for family law practitioners.

Since faced with the global pandemic, drastic measures have been undertaken to protect the health and safety of the public. Governor Newsom issued a statewide shelter in place/stay at home order, designed to combat the community spread of the disease. In her emergency order from March 23rd, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye made it very clear that the courts simply could not comply with the shelter in place restrictions, especially since many court facilities were ill-equipped to ensure social distancing. She’s absolutely right. Think about the last time you were in court B.C.— "Before Covid-19." Just the simple process of going to court involves close personal interaction. We stand in lines next to people, we ride elevators huddled together with litigants and counsel, or take the stairs if we’re masochists. At times, we conduct business in the hallway or in the law library, discussing important matters with our clients and opposing counsel. Depending on the layout of the courtroom, we even sit next to one another while we wait for our case to be called. We touch things. Constantly. We interact with one another, all of which is typically done in close proximity. Not anymore—at least not for the foreseeable future.

Even our day-to-day operations have changed as a result of Covid-19. Many law firms and practitioners have "temporarily" shut down their brick and mortar offices, choosing to work remotely from home. Advancements in technology have allowed us to carry on business-not necessarily as usual-but as much as possible under the circumstances. In-person office visits have been supplanted with appointments held via telephone or video conferencing. Heck, you can even change your screen background to make it look like you are on a beach! In recent years we’ve had the ability to appear in court by telephone, but now it seems more commonplace and not merely limited to people who live out of county. Some courts have even started to use video conferencing as a means to hold hearings since being shuttered. This is an extremely important step toward creating more access to the court system in the midst of this pandemic.

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