The 2020 pandemic has ushered in a series of societal changes, some of which are temporary and some permanent. But regardless of which, we are all looking for ways to navigate around the different effects of COVID-19 on our daily lives. While restaurants, bars, gyms, and the like have been closed and will work to open up, the same is true of our Texas court system. For literally months as of this writing, courts in the state have been closed to only “essential” matters. Hearings and trials have been postponed, but new case filings have been accepted. This means more cases needing hearings and trial settings, causing further backlog on judge’s already busy dockets; which of course, means delay for those needing a judge to decide their case for them. For divorcing couples, there are options to navigate around this backlogged system – choosing a Collaborative Divorce is one such option.
In Texas, Collaborative Divorce is a legal option offered by statute. Why is that important? Because every family law attorney should be telling clients about it, but they don’t. Some attorneys are trained only in how to litigate your case – set hearings before a judge, send formal discovery (information) requests, set the case for trial, and then try to negotiate a settlement against the deadline of a trial date, and eventually a public trial if a settlement cannot be negotiated. With court backlogs, those efforts to reach a litigated settlement will be put off further into the future.
A Collaborative Divorce works outside of that litigation structure. There are no mud-slinging hearings, no depositions, no court-mandated deadlines, no trials. The Collaborative Divorce process is designed around the divorcing couple’s schedules, moving as fast (or as slow) as the couple wants. During the pandemic while courts have been closed to in-person hearings, judges are required to live stream hearings on You Tube! Pandemic or not, closed or open courthouses, a Collaborative Divorce occurs within the confines of private conference rooms rather than public courtrooms. And in the midst of the pandemic, Collaborative professionals have quickly and easily made the transition to settlement video meetings, allowing them to help clients resolve their divorces amicably and without the need for a courtroom or judge.
For spouses who choose Collaborative Divorce, they and their attorneys sign an agreement to stay out of court. Once that agreement is signed, the attorneys notify the court and work to settle the case. Since they are agreeing to not be bound by hearing and trial deadlines, court backlogs are irrelevant for those divorcing spouses. Like traffic jams on the freeway, these court backlogs will take considerable time to unwind, especially when you consider that many jurisdictions are reporting an uptick in divorce filings as a direct result of the shelter-in-place orders we have all been living under. So even once we’re past the shelter-in-place orders, couples will want a way to resolve their divorces without getting stuck in the divorce traffic. Collaborative Divorce is the exit ramp out of that jam.
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