Life has slowed down during the current public health crisis and court proceedings have not escaped this phenomenon. For Floridians trying to get divorced, their cases will likely move through the court system more slowly than they would have prepandemic. Hearings conducted remotely such as via Zoom – while safer – tend to take more time, slowing the whole process down.
Slower dissolution of marriage proceedings, despite fewer divorces
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel recently interviewed divorce attorney Daniel Forrest of our law firm about the coronavirus’ impact on Florida divorce. Divorce numbers dropped at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April 2020. Attorney Forrest attributes this to people having been in “doomsday mode” in which divorce lost its importance as compared to the sudden real potential of death.
The Sun-Sentinel also noted other factors that could have contributed to the decrease in divorce numbers. For example, Florida court’s closed facilities and cancelled or rescheduled many hearings, putting divorce proceedings into a slower mode overall.
According to one study by researchers at Bowling Green State University, COVID-19 came upon us during a period when divorce rates were already on the decline nationally. Looking closely at five states, including Florida, the drop in divorce numbers did not appear linked to “political affiliation of the governor or timing of state stay at home or reopening policies.”
That study concluded that in March through Sept. 2020, divorces in Florida were an estimated 28.2% lower than expected.
Protracted divorces may continue for the short term
While we all hope for a return to normal given the opportunity for vaccination against the coronavirus, Florida courts are still in Phase 2 of a four-level plan. In Phase 2, state trial courts are authorized to allow in-person contact for some purposes with protective practices.
The Chief Judge in Broward County issued Administrative Order 2021-16-Temp on April 12, 2021. He stated that because of the size of the courthouses in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, compliance with CDC protocols and distancing practices is difficult, so most court proceedings should continue to use “remote technological means.”
So, we will continue to err on the side of safety and caution for the near future, holding divorce proceedings using video communication platforms in South Florida.