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Divorce in the Age of COVID-19
Coronavirus has impacted us in a myriad of ways, both from the restrictions imposed by the government and the precautions that we choose to take as individuals. Getting divorced is a daunting process even in the best of times, but right now, not knowing how the courts are responding to COVID-19 might be causing you additional anxiety. Luckily for Clinton residents, Hinds County has set forth a clear set of procedures, and getting familiar with them might ease some of your fears.
Divorce in Mississippi
First let’s talk a little bit about divorce in Mississippi more generally. The Magnolia State actually has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. Mississippi divides its overall caseload into a few different court systems depending on the nature of the case. Divorces (and other domestic issues) are heard in the Chancery Courts. Chancery Court judges are used to working with people who haven’t interacted much with the legal system, so this environment is hopefully relatively unintimidating.
Every county has slightly different court procedures, but we’ll be focusing on Hinds County, where most of you live. If you call a different county home, feel free to check out your local Chancery Court’s website for the most specific information, but what you read here will still give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
After President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13th, the Hinds County Chancery Court began developing a plan of action, which went into effect on May 18th until further notice. Some of the guidelines primarily affect lawyers and court staff, but here are the ones that you might want to be aware of:
Before entering the building, you’ll need to submit to a temperature check, and you will not be admitted if your temperature is above 100.1 degrees.
You’ll also be required to use hand sanitizer immediately before entering the courtroom.
Everyone in the building must wear a mask at all times.
Only people involved in the case (parties, witnesses, etc.) will be allowed in the courtroom without prior authorization.
There will never be more than 10 people allowed in the courtroom total, including staff. This is so that social distancing can be properly practiced, with everyone remaining at least 6 feet apart at all times.
The judge will not look at any hard copies of documents that you bring in on the day of your appearance. Instead, you’ll have to scan and email them at least 48 hours ahead of time.
It’s important to note that these precautions are the floor, not the ceiling. Ultimately, the courtroom is the judge’s domain, and he or she might make minor additional requests of you, which you will also be obliged to follow. The above procedures are the only ones that you can reasonably be expected to be aware of on your own, though, of course.
What You Can Do to Make Things Easier on Yourself
Hopefully this proactive approach will benefit the health of Hinds County residents, but one unintended consequence of the new protocol is that the Chancery Courts are likely to be running slower than they usually do. Court personnel are still getting used to this new way of operating, so everything might be just a little less efficient. Additionally, court surfaces will need to be sanitized between cases, so it’s possible that fewer cases will be scheduled per day.
The best thing that you can do to avoid hassle and unexpected delay is to look into an internet divorce platform. This is generally only an option for those undergoing uncontested divorces (meaning both parties agree how to resolve issues like spousal support, division of debts and assets, child support, and child custody), but for folks who fall into that category, it is almost always the best way to go. It’s much less costly than hiring an attorney, plus you’ll be able to avoid appearing in court altogether. Now how’s that for social distancing?
Divorce can be scary, but the more knowledgeable and prepared you are, the easier it will be.