Coming out of Covid, Lisa Zeiderman has highlighted some new topics that people need to consider when getting a divorce. Zoom and remote divorce is new for family law, but it could be beneficial for the clients.
- Zoom divorce saves clients money, no waiting in the courtroom, no commuting time to pay the lawyers.
- Post-covid, relocation is a big issue that now people moved during covid, with kids and may or may not return to the original home location.
- There are things you need to be careful of when on zoom for your divorce, listen to what Lisa highlights.
OUR GUEST – LISA ZEIDERMAN
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
TH: Hi everybody. Welcome to today’s podcast. We’re happy to have Lisa Zeiderman here. She is the Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman, their law office is in New York City and Westchester County in New York. Welcome to today’s show.
Lisa: Thanks so much. I’m so happy to be here.
TH: Lisa and I connected through another amazing woman. We just were talking all night, and it was like girls happy hour. Lisa has an extensive amount of experience in matrimonial and family law. We wanted to talk to her today about Zoom divorce, which we’ve coined living in this pandemic and going through divorce virtually, pros and cons. Tell us the current state of affair with this.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s definitely a sign of the times.
Lisa: It is an absolute sign of the times. The current state of affairs right now is that everything is through your computer at this point. Everything is by Zoom or Teams and that means from the very first consultation that we are having with our client, until negotiation or a settlement agreement, through even a trial of the matter if necessary. We have learned to take it all the way through at this point, learned how to upload our documents and our settlement proposals so that we can discuss that on a screen, and we are uploading exhibits for trials. We really are doing this all through Zoom and Teams, and it has been quite the experience. I think that there’s been a lot of pros that we have actually learned came out of this.
Jessica: Well, I was just going to ask because I feel like in the past, it’s very possible that the court systems weren’t keeping up with the times and maybe we’re behind in certain ways. The downsides, which I want to ask you about with regards to timing and things like that, that people are getting frustrated with, I wonder if they’re outweighed by the new benefits, which is that courts and judges and everyone involved have really been forced to be able to actually use the technology available to them. The idea of being able to get affidavits and power of attorneys and all of the kind of legal things done and signed virtually and then uploaded, I mean it expedites the processes in certain ways for sure.
Lisa: It expedites it tremendously from the time that people were sitting in the courtrooms waiting in the hallways for hours at a time that is now non-existent. People have usually a time that they’re going to be getting on for a court appearance. That’s usually a time certain, we’re very close to a time certain, and that time is blocked out. We have the courts undivided attention during that time. Everybody has been taught how to get on and how to get on efficiently, and in fact, getting on even a little bit earlier so that all of the tests can be performed for sound etc. I would say also that the efficiency in terms of loading up documents and being able to use them through the chats, being able to download a document quickly, and being able to share it on the screen so that the judge can see it as well as your adversary and your client and anyone else who is involved in a trial of the matter, it’s been tremendously efficient. I will say also that I think that the focus is just tremendous, because the courts are very focused. When they’re in these meetings, the judges are extremely focused to their credit on what is happening in the meetings, and you don’t have as much tumults: people running in and out of the courtroom, people distracting the court as to what is happening. It’s a very focused situation. I think it’s been really tremendous, and I think that we have moved probably decades faster because of unfortunately, this pandemic.
TH: What about confidentiality?
Jessica: Great question.
TH: Now, I’m familiar with DocuSign and all these other tools out there, but there are security breaches all the time with banks and all that kind of stuff. I’m sure that people would ask, I would ask, you’re nervous to send stuff through an email or anything, how do you make sure that their information is really kept secure and private?
Lisa: First of all things can be encrypted. But information was always sent to the court via email. Information has been uploaded to e-file for, I would say, the last five years. Information being uploaded to a place essentially, a courthouse, that’s nothing new. It’s just that now we’re able to upload it for all of our meetings, conferences, and all of our trials. That is something new. And again, the cost savings I think is tremendous because of the fact that you’re uploading the documents. You’re not making 20 copies of these documents.
TH: [Sigh] I remember doing that. Lisa just showed me what her bedroom looks like all filled with files, like every bed is filled with other client’s files. When I had to reproduce five years of bank statements and whatever, this was 2008 so we weren’t as savvy back then, but it all had to be printed out. I was going through reels of paper and ink and it was all like everywhere around me. I would have much rather it been uploadable and electronic and never seen it in my peaceful home.
Lisa: You know, now we’re delivering literally a hard drive right to the courthouse, and the courthouse has it. The court is also working to some extent from home during these trials, so everybody is in the same boat. But I think that the concern has been from the beginning that if a trial is occurring, will the court be able to judge the credibility of the witnesses on the Zoom or the Teams? That seems to be one of the bigger concerns for people. I would say this. I’ve done this now a number of times. I’ve probably had five trials during the last two to three months. I can see all of you, you could see me, and you can see what my face looks like. The judges are very smart. They’re watching everybody’s expressions. They have everybody on the screen and gallery view so that they can see everybody’s reactions. They are very cautious to make sure that they keep those screens on and that they’re watching everybody’s reactions and you can see the judges watching the reactions too. Though I think that the issue with judging credibility, I think, frankly, given the fact that we’re wearing masks, it’s much easier to see people’s faces via Teams or Zoom [that’s so true] rather than behind a mask when you weren’t really able to see them. I think that that makes a difference too. Now, there are issues, right? The issues being that we don’t necessarily know what’s in front of somebody in front of their computer screen. But it’s very hard I think when you’re taking testimony to be essentially looking at a script, because your attention has to be focused on the questions. You don’t know what question I’m going to ask next. What are you going to do, rummage through your outline? You have no idea. You’re on, and you have to be on and ready to go. You’re not going to be able to figure out the answer to my questions on cross examination. It’s just not possible.
TH: Hang on one second. Are these recorded?
Lisa: They are actually taken down by stenographers the same as if we were in court.
TH: But not recorded like what we’re doing here?
Lisa: No, in family court they are recorded. They always were recorded in family court, but no one, none of the people who are actually part of the trial, neither the witnesses nor the attorneys are allowed to record. That’s one of the rules, and they tell you that when you get on to a conference or to a trial. Moreover, the stenographer who was in the courtroom may now be in her house, but he or she is still taking down that information the same way that they did before. Now, maybe there will be a time when we get to the next step and it’s just simply recorded, but we’re not there yet.
Jessica: In the discussion of, okay, now everybody’s getting up to speed with technology and that’s making things easier in so many ways and expediting the processes in so many ways, help us understand so that people who are listening understand, then why are the courts so backed up? Why are certain things taking so much longer than you would think, given the circumstances of how quickly things could be done these days?
Lisa: I think it’s a great question that you ask. I think one of the reasons why the court is so backed up is because there are litigants who are not going to have access to these types of computers, iPads, etc. That’s the problem, right? Remember, for the most part, we deal with high net worth individuals who are able to afford all the accoutrements that go with being able to do this via Teams or Zoom. But this idea of equal access to justice has issues because in, for example, the family court system, it’s so difficult because people don’t always have that access. In fact, I’m on the board of an organization called LIFT, where we are discussing this very issue and how to remedy it so that the court system and the litigants are able to get up to speed. That may mean giving the litigants access someplace to this type of technology so that they too can get up to speed. I also think there’s just an enormous amount of cases coming in right now. You’ve got cases in terms of modifications of support, of custody, and you have issues that you’ve never had before.
Jessica: Like what? What are some issues that you’ve never had before that are potentially pandemic related, that are more tied into Zoom and online divorce?
Lisa: Relocation. People have relocated during the pandemic, right? People have gone to different areas during the pandemic and then decided to stay. In some cases that may be as far as California, where people have decided that they were going to go out there to spend the time during the pandemic thinking when they went out in March or April, that it would be a few months. Then they’re now out there for more than six months, and remember, there is a home state rule for where a child is residing. That home state rule says that when a child is in a place for six months, they actually become essentially that state’s child for purposes of custody, and that’s an issue.
TH: Until what age? Until 18 years?
Lisa: Well, until the time when they would move or 18 years, but the 18 years depends upon what state, right? New York State is 18 years for custody.
Jessica: Is this more an issue in circumstances where the parents are fighting over custody or in disagreement over custody? Or is it relevant and just creating wrinkles in the system if me and my ex are in a relocation situation, but we’ve already agreed among the two of us, it’s amicable, and we already know what’s going to happen with the kids but now the fact that I’m living somewhere else, am I creating a problem or no?
Lisa: It’s not a problem that both of you agree, but remember, there are a lot of people who don’t agree.
Jessica: Now I’ve moved and I’ve relocated with my kid, and now I’m like, oh yeah, sorry, we don’t have to come back now. We’re going to live in California.
Lisa: It’s a problem because your former spouse may have thought it was fine for a temporary type of situation or your spouse may have thought it was fine during a temporary situation and now where you’re with family, or a grandparent, or some relative, and your support system has changed, and you’ve made new friends, essentially, or reconnected with loved ones, it’s really that’s an issue. Another issue that people certainly have is remote versus in person school. Yeah, so there are definitely different —
TH: Right. You just take your kid with you to California —
Jessica: Or you take your kid with you to California, because now you can go to school in person. Now you’re like, okay, but we didn’t have this option at home. This might be what’s better for the kid, according to that parent, and that’s hard to argue with.
Lisa: Or it might be just in your home state. We have this every day. We have parents who are in New York State, they’re still living in the same exact places they were living, and one parent wants to home school at this point and use remote learning, and another parent wants to send the child to school for socialization purposes. Nobody’s right or wrong at this point because there are the pros and cons of both. Then of course the school shuts down and now there are childcare issues because somebody in the school has now contracted COVID and everybody’s out.
Jessica: Is this contributing to delays in the system because now your case is taking twice as long because you have all of these extra things that you hadn’t thought about?
Lisa: This is actually contributing to an overload of the system because all of these issues that I’m now discussing with you are reasons that people are going to court.
TH: It’s big enough to warrant going to court.
Lisa: Right, because it’s a big issue if you want to take your child out of school.
Jessica: So cases that may have been able to have been mediated or worked out in collaborative divorce now are being litigated?
Lisa: Or there are issues that wouldn’t have come up in the first place.
TH: Right, it’d never have been a problem.
Lisa: Exactly. We’re going to have a new issue. I’m going to place a bet that we have a new issue as soon as children can be vaccinated for COVID.
Jessica: Well, as soon as schools start requiring children to be vaccinated, I think you’re going to have a lot of people in this country and elsewhere around the world who are going to say, I’m not vaccinating my kid for this for COVID because whatever. They think it hasn’t been tested, it’s not effective enough, it’s not proven long enough, and that’s going to be a really — oh my god.
TH: You don’t know the long term effect on a kid. Reproductive system, I mean, who the hell knows.
Lisa: The rule now is that children who attend school have to be vaccinated, right? We had this issue come up last year with measles, rubella, and there was an outbreak and the court system decided that children have to be vaccinated. Now we’re going to have a new issue I’m sure. Research is just starting to be performed for children, I think, who are 12 to 15, but it’ll soon be earlier. And there are a lot of children who are getting COVID. I mean, every day I hear of another child getting COVID, so it is real. I am sure that we’re going to have disputes between parents about whether or not to vaccinate the child. The court can’t make that determination, but what the court can do is to make a determination as to which parent is in the better position to make that decision. There are so many new issues, and of course, there are people who are unemployed who wouldn’t have been unemployed otherwise, who are now putting in support modification petitions, and those are overloading the system. Or people who are waiting for their contempt applications to be heard, because somebody is not paying the support that they were supposed to have been paying because they no longer have a job. We are in a totally different universe, essentially, with new issues that never existed before.
TH: Do you think that more of the cases coming your way have to be litigated or are they being handled through mediation? Or is it really just luck of the draw?
Lisa: I think mediation is for certain people and for certain cases. I don’t think mediation is for everyone. I think if it’s a simplistic case, and you each know what your assets are, and you can sit down in a room and have a discussion together on an equal level playing field, then mediation is great. But I think that there are many cases that that isn’t the case, where people don’t have the financial information, and one person has more control of the finances than the other. That is not a great case in my view to be mediated. There are also issues where of course there’s been domestic violence, also not a great place for mediation, because there’s already fear. I think that there are people who some are stronger advocates for themselves than others, and unless I think you’re really a strong advocate for yourself, you don’t necessarily belong in mediation. You may need somebody who can be your advocate. I always say, and I hope it never would come to fruition, but if my husband who is a very strong personality and myself, we had to get divorced, we could easily mediate it because we could figure out what the finances are in 10 minutes. We would figure out how to divide it and we’re on an equal playing field.
TH: That’s huge. I mean, the podcast that we’ve done today, the thing that comes up over and over and over again, is unfortunately women are not properly educated on their financial health. They don’t know passwords. They don’t know access. They don’t know anything. They don’t know what they signed last year, they didn’t even read it. That’s such a detriment, and that’s a whole other conversation, but that seems to be a continuing theme throughout all the podcasts that Jessica and I’ve been doing.
Lisa: I think that’s right. I think that mediation, if you’re going to do mediation, I think this is an ideal way to do mediation through Zoom. I don’t think you necessarily need to be in the same room to do it. You could be in your Zoom room. But you also have, and I will say this is the con, you have the dog who runs in, you need to make sure that your children are out of earshot to have these conferences as well as trials. There is definitely a con to it, which is that you still need to manage your household while all of this is going on.
Jessica: You have your everyday distractions. That’s right.
TH: Lisa was telling me that some of her clients do their depositions and have their calls from their cars.
Jessica: I believe it.
TH: Each in their own car.
Jessica: I believe it.
TH: And you know what? The kids are in the house; let the dog wild for an hour. I’m in my car.
Lisa: I have met more people in their cars before their first consultation. I’m going to call it Consults in the Car because it’s like that Jerry Seinfeld show.
Jessica: So, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Right
Lisa: Coffee in the Car? This is Consults in the Car. Exactly, it’s great though.
Jessica: Yeah. I mean this conversation could go on and on honestly. There’s so much great information. Thank you for taking the time and bringing it to everyone here at the exEXPERTS community, because what’s happening now virtually with divorce is definitely something that people need to be aware of and need to be prepared for, and need to understand what that process is. For anyone who is interested in reaching out to you directly, what are the best ways for them to find you?
Lisa: They can find me at www.lisazeiderman.com. They can call my office and I’ll give you my Westchester number at this point because of the fact that we’re between offices: 914-455-1000. Or they can simply email me at email@example.com.
Jessica: We’re going to have all of that information on our website as well. For anyone who’s listening, you can hop over to www.exexperts.com and find that information. But Lisa, thank you so much, and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Lisa: Thank you so much. It was really wonderful.
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