Longtime Ontario Lawyer Says Return to Courtrooms Will Hurt Some Divorcing Couples, Starts Online Petition

Russell Alexander argues for so-called ‘Zoom divorce’ because it saves time, money

TORONTO, Ontario—Longtime Ontario family lawyer Russell Alexander, who is the author of the new book “Zoom Divorce” coming out later this spring, says a recent move to require more hearings take place in person in a courtroom will cost divorcing couples more money and make the process more inconvenient. He recently set up a petition on Change.org to argue his case and show public support to amend the new requirement in Ontario for in-person divorce proceedings, which has already received over 600 signatures.

“One of the few silver linings of the pandemic was that it forced courts to catch up to the digital age, allowing remote hearings that were more convenient and cheaper for divorcing couples,” said Alexander. “It’s unfortunate that we’re now returning to in-person hearings for case conferences and back to a system that, quite frankly, was broken.”

When courtrooms shut down for health reasons during the coronavirus pandemic, judges and lawyers switched to what some call a “Zoom divorce,” holding routine hearings and other pretrial meetings online using videoconferencing technology. Now, Ontario judges are calling for a return to the courthouse.

Alexander said that as many as 10 percent of divorces are resolved at the first hearing, making it extremely likely that they could be handled entirely through videoconferencing. For divorces that require more negotiation, he said that remote hearings could be held for the more routine legal matters, saving in-person hearings for the most intense parts of the process.

The pandemic showed several advantages to “Zoom divorces,” Alexander said. First, couples didn’t have to pay for travel, parking and time off from work, while they avoided traffic, court security, interpersonal conflicts and time spent waiting around the hallways of the courthouse. Legal fees were also reduced, since lawyers had to spend less time traveling, and rural clients had more options to hire lawyers.

“Even if you ignore the savings in time and money, the emotional toll of a remote hearing is far less than showing up to a courtroom to confront a spouse who may have been physically or mentally abusive,” added Alexander. “If the primary goal of divorce is to help a couple move on with their lives, it’s hard to see how making that process more draining is helpful.”

To view Alexander’s petition on Change.org, visit: https://bit.ly/RussellAlexanderInPersonCourtPetition