Friends and Clients:
Hance Law Group would like to provide some relevant information about what we’re doing in response to COVID-19 and what’s happening in the court system in North Texas. While we’re closely monitoring the impact of this virus on our courts, cases, and clients (and are concerned), we’re also looking forward to the end of this and want everyone in our orbit to come out as safely as possible.
First of all, at the firm (right now), we’re taking precautions to protect our clients and team members as it relates to the legal matters we’re handling. While most of what we do is not affected by the recommended social isolation, we want to make it safer and more convenient for our clients to keep their matters moving forward. Of course, we’re encouraging team members to stay home if they feel ill, and are offering for them to work from home if they prefer even when they’re well. I’ve updated my Zoom account, and we’re getting everyone else set up on the Zoom teleconferencing system so that we can have more personal interaction with prospective clients, current clients and others with whom we communicate during our day. Much of our work is done by phone, anyway, so this isn’t a big change–other than the fact that Zoom offers video calls and screen share to look at documents, etc. We also have DocuSign available for signing engagement letters and any other documents which need to be signed by our clients, making it unnecessary to come in for a signature.
We strongly encourage our clients to have appointments with our team members by phone or Zoom video for their safety, as well as our team and our extended community. Our current policy is to consider in-person meetings on a case by case basis.
The courts in most of the North Texas counties are closed except for emergencies (Dallas County Family Court Judges issued their “joint statement” last Thursday and the surrounding counties have mostly followed suit). Emergencies (called “Essential Family Court Matters”) include family violence protective orders, writs of attachment for wrongfully withheld children, child protective service cases and other similar matters. The Judges are encouraging some contested matters to be submitted online. Agreed divorces will be granted by submitting a Decree online, without the need for a party to appear in person. The Courts are working to increase their ability to have electronic and telephone appearances and testimony. The courts have shown a strong commitment to everyone’s safety, as you can see.
Because many schools have extended Spring Break this year, the courts quickly addressed a likely conflict: most parenting plans say that a parent’s spring break begins at the time school recesses at the beginning of spring break and continues until the Sunday before school begins after spring break. The result of this could have been that the parent who had spring break this year might have kept the children until the end of the new “spring break” period. However, the Judges issued a statement that defines spring break as the period originally set out by the school the child resides in.
Because most divorces don’t end up in a final trial, having the Courts closed does not have a huge impact on our work. However, we do have client matters set for trial, and at least one has already been removed from the docket. For matters that are being negotiated between the attorneys, using the collaborative divorce process, or in mediation, the closing of the courts won’t matter. However, for those clients who need a decision to be made by a third party, we will be looking at agreeing to an arbitrator in appropriate cases to make those decisions.
Let us know if you have any questions, or need anything at all from us.
Larry Hance, Jonathan James and Bryce Hopson