New Report Analyzes D.C. Family Law Litigant Experiences with Remote Court Hearings
February 11, 2022
A report published by NPC Research of Portland, Oregon examines the experiences of litigants with remote hearings in their District of Columbia family law cases during the pandemic. Litigant Perspectives in Family Law Cases, released in February 2022, analyzes results of a 2021 survey of six legal services providers’ clients about their virtual courtroom experiences. The survey was a collaboration among the Family Law Learning Network (FLLN), the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, and the D.C. Bar Foundation.
The Family Law Learning Network (FLNN) is a partnership of legal services providers including Amara, Bread for the City, the DC Affordable Law Firm, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Safe Sisters Circle, and the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project.
From July to November 2021, participating organizations surveyed current or former clients who had hearings in the Domestic Relations Branch, Paternity and Support Branch, and the Domestic Violence Division. NPC Research analyzed data from 189 survey respondents and conducted two focus groups of family law attorneys.
Most study participants reported being satisfied with their remote proceedings. Virtual court appearances eased several challenges low-income litigants often face with in-person court appearances. Remote appearances alleviated logistical and financial challenges; saved time and resources; and increased feelings of safety and security, especially among those with domestic violence cases.
Despite the benefits of remote hearings, litigants and attorneys reported some limitations. Virtual appearances can make it easier to miss important nonverbal cues, especially when parties join without video, complicating assessments of credibility. Virtual courtrooms made it more difficult for attorneys and clients to have quick, private communications and video conferencing left some litigants feeling unheard. Litigants and attorneys noted that remote environments cannot fully replace in-person interactions, and that some proceedings were better suited to in-person appearances, such as evidentiary hearings and trials.
“These survey results provide valuable insights to inform family law practice in the District,” said Jenadee Nanini, a family law staff attorney with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. “Given the longevity of the pandemic and remote operations, it is vital for practitioners and the court to understand how to best serve litigants in a remote or hybrid environment moving forward.”
Litigant Perspectives in Family Law Cases offers eight recommendations the court may wish to consider when public health considerations allow in-person operations to resume in family court.