Can I attend my court hearings by telephone or Skype?

When a divorce case is initiated, many of my client often wonder which hearings they have to appear at. This answer, like most answers in family law, is that it depends. It depends on the judge's preference and the type of hearing. It also depends on where you live, and why you are requesting not to attend, or to attend via telephone or Sykpe.

Recently, a new rule of civil procedure was passed about appearing by telephone or Skype. Rule of Civil Procedure 1.451(b) allows courts to permit a witness to testify at a hearing by Skype or telephone "for good cause shown upon written request of a party upon reasonable notice to all other parties." While the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure have not yet adopted a similar rule, there is a Family Law Rule of Procedure that says that the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure apply in all family law matters except when a direct conflict between the Florida Civil Rules of Procedure and the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure exists. Currently, there is no Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure in direct conflict with Rule 1.451. This rule has some footnotes, called Committee Notes, which provide some guidance to the court by suggesting which factors to look at when trying to determine whether good cause has been shown. The factors are things like:

  • the type and stage of the proceeding
  • the presence or absence of constitutionally protected rights
  • the importance of the testimony to the resolution of the case
  • the relative cost or inconvenience of requiring the presence of the witness in court
  • the limitations (if any) placed on the opportunity for opposing counsel and the finder of fact to observe the witness's demeanor and
  • any other factors the court reasonable deems material to weighing the justification the requesting party has offered in support of the request to allow a witness to testify by communications equipment against the potential for prejudice to the objecting party

If you are able to attend a hearing in person, this is always preferred. However, if there is ever a reason that you cannot attend a hearing in person, and still wish to be present, be sure to discuss this with your family law attorney. A motion will have to be filed with enough time to get a decision from the judge before the hearing at which you want to appear by telephone or Skype. Your attorney will probably need to discuss the pros and cons of appearing by telephone or Skype, and will need to evaluate the impact it will have on your case. This type of issue is something you will want to discuss with you family law attorney as soon as possible.