As the judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share information about the court with the community. This article marks the beginning of a new endeavor for me, a monthly article to share news about exciting court programs, legal processes, and generally highlight the work we do. For my first article, I want to share what the court has done to better serve Delaware County citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what a person can expect if they have a case with the Domestic Relations Court today.
Before the pandemic, parties would generally attend court hearings and file documents in person at the courthouse. Today, in our “new normal,” that can all be done virtually and remotely!
Last spring, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Delaware County Domestic Relations Court staff did a tremendous job of transitioning to a virtual format in a very short period of time. Fortunately, we were already using Zoom video-conferencing, so we were able to use existing technology to transition seamlessly to a virtual court.
Of course, our procedures have continued to evolve throughout the pandemic. Taking into account all health guidelines and safety measures, I am proud to say the Domestic Relations Court can conduct all court functions virtually and remotely. This means we can schedule and hold hearings, and serve notices and orders all while utilizing an online, virtual platform!
It may sound a little intimidating, but as the process continues to develop, we have gotten a lot of positive feedback from litigants and attorneys alike. Virtual hearings can be more efficient and provide a cost savings to litigants, while allowing the court to continue overseeing the progress of a case. Virtual hearings also minimize any lack of appearance by parties as it is easier to “appear” from a remote location, as opposed to travelling to the courthouse.
As for those who do not have a smartphone, computer, tablet or internet access, the court provides a room with a computer, microphone, monitor, and camera at the courthouse. This option, however, is rarely used as most people have access to their own technology.
So how does a domestic relations case get started, and what does a virtual hearing look like? Well, a case starts when a person (or their attorney) files documents with the Delaware County Clerk of Courts, which can be done electronically. When filing new documents or when filing an initial response, email addresses should be provided to the court to ensure that all orders, pleadings, and virtual hearing information can be shared electronically with the party or attorney.
We conduct most hearings by Zoom. If you were expected at a hearing, you would receive an email from the court letting you know when the hearing was scheduled. The email would include a link and log-in information. Once logged on, you would be placed in a virtual waiting room. At the scheduled time, I or one of my magistrates, would bring you into the virtual hearing.
It is important to note that virtual hearings are considered the same as in-person hearings, and everyone is expected to conduct themselves accordingly. For example, even though parties are permitted to appear online, the same in-person rules apply to professionalism, decorum and attire.
Just as with an in-person hearing at the courthouse, testimony and evidence are presented and recorded by official court reporting software. Once the hearing is concluded, we can draft, electronically sign, and e-file orders. If necessary, this can all be done without anyone physically being at the courthouse!
When you learn about the current process, it’s really amazing how the legal system has adapted to serve the needs of our community. While we look forward to having more in-person hearings in the future, virtual hearings will remain a part of the Delaware County Domestic Relations Court process, and we will continue to use technology to improve the court-user experience. My goal has always been to embrace technology, to remain safely open, and to continue hearing cases and resolving family conflict.
Embracing technology has also made us early adapters, enabling us to lead the way in assisting other Ohio courts in their transition to a virtual platform. None of this could have been achieved without tremendous efforts by all the Domestic Relations Court staff and other Delaware County offices, especially Clerk of Courts Natalie Fravel’s office, and Auditor George Kaitsa’s IT staff. We are fortunate in Delaware County to have a team that truly works together for the betterment of all, and I cannot thank them enough.
Speaking of thanks, I thank you for taking the time to read my first article in The Delaware Gazette, and I look forward to sharing more exciting news in the months ahead!
Randall D. Fuller is judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Fuller is a life-long resident of Delaware County.