The effects of coronavirus are already being felt around the world and not just by people who are unwell. Most industries are affected in some way and people are having to adapt.
I am starting to see an impact on family law too and expect there may be some changes over the next couple of months:
1. Hearings may be adjourned as witnesses are unable to travel
There have been some witnesses unable to attend Family Court as they are from countries affected by travel bans. There is also a general reluctance for people to travel from overseas. We may see an increase in the use of audio-visual links in courtrooms in the coming months. Judicial conferences between the judge, the parties and their lawyers often take place face to face. People may choose to phone into these meetings, rather than attend in person.
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2. A decrease in face to face meetings
Clients may not want to visit their lawyer's offices as often and apps such as Zoom and Skype will be more heavily used. Lawyers may need to visit their elderly clients at their homes if a face-to-face meeting is required.
3. Working from home
Working from home is becoming more common in legal practices of all sizes. People may take advantage of this option as they don't want to be in unnecessary contact with other people either at work or travelling on public transport.
4. Less seasonal fluctuations
School holidays are usually quiet as clients are away but, with a decrease in travel, these fluctuations may not exist for the next few months.
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5. Guardian disputes
I anticipate more disputes about travel, where one parent wants to take children overseas and the other is opposed to it. People have different views on safety and risk. There will be situations where one parent is very worried about the virus and the other is not concerned and reluctant to cancel plans. This may also be true of domestic travel as people avoid air travel and public places. It is important to keep open lines of communication with your ex about any travel that involves your children and try to agree on your approach for how you talk to your children about the virus.
The coronavirus is starting to affect the way people work, even in New Zealand where there are only a few confirmed cases. There may be effects on the Family Court process, and how lawyers and clients work with one another. Hopefully, this will all be short-lived.
Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.