As most people are well aware, the Center for Disease Control and several branches of the government have recommended a quarantine for Americans in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
May people wonder what this means for those who need or want legal assistance with divorces, adoptions, legitimations, and other family law matters.
It is true, as most people have heard, that most court systems in the metro-Atlanta area are closed to the public and are only entertaining “necessary” legal matters. These matters are primarily limited to emergencies.
This does NOT, however, mean that people in need of legal help are without recourse in these trying times. Even though the Courts are temporarily closed for hearings, there are several alternative ways to resolve cases.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of ways that even contested cases can be resolved in the face of this international crisis.
1.Mediation: As addressed in a prior post, mediation is an attempt to resolve legal matters without the necessity of court intervention. Most courts require mediation before a final hearing can be obtained even outside of a national emergency. Several mediators are conducting virtual mediations now utilizing electronic meeting websites. For those that are not “tech savvy,” in person mediations are still often available while still following CDC and government “social distancing” guidelines.
2.Arbitration: For those cases that do not resolve by agreement and need judicial intervention but do not qualify as legal emergencies, arbitration is an option. Arbitration is a process in which a private individual (an attorney or retired judge) is hired by the parties to issue a decision. Unlike a mediation, an arbitrator is tasked with making decisions and issuing orders and these orders have the same effect as orders from a case’s assigned judge. The difference is that arbitrations are not required to occur at a courthouse (most do not) and they can be conducted electronically.
3.Settlement: For those individuals that need relief and already have an agreement with their opposition, even in the face of courthouse closings, judges are still available to sign and process consent agreements. These agreements can be presented to the court electronically and oftentimes are being signed, filed and finalized very shortly after submission.
4.Collaborative: Similar to mediation, collaborative resolution involves both sides of a dispute coming together to resolve their differences with the guidance of legal counsel. Often, these cases can be resolved very quickly so long as both sides are willing to participate in the process and are committed to resolving the case.