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March 16, 2022 Columns


Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV


Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV is a Family Law Quarterly Editorial Board member, a past chair of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Family Law Section, an ABA Representative to the Uniform Law Commission’s Joint Editorial Board on Uniform Family Laws, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Connecticut, and a private practitioner in Stamford, Connecticut.

The years 2020 and 2021 rank near the top of any dysfunctionality scale. In the face of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, courts scrambled to provide access to justice, individuals struggled to resolve their family disputes, and lawyers strained to serve clients using new tools and procedures. This second COVID-19 issue of the Family Law Quarterly addresses some of those challenges and emerging opportunities.

The first article is one that I authored, and it explains how national judicial organizations capitalized on the pandemic to transform courts into a more accessible, transparent, efficient, and user-friendly branch of government. How the Judiciary Has Driven Systemic Innovation During the Pandemic examines the new “pathways” approach to resolving civil and family matters. My article describes the contours of a new system based on “triage” procedures, information technologies, and other practical reforms that together constitute “systemic innovation.” The article raises concerns identified during the initial implementation in the first “demonstration” state, Connecticut. Practitioners should work more closely with the judiciary as it expands implementation to many more jurisdictions.

The second article is Lessons from a Pandemic: The Georgia TPO Forum’s Recommendations for Strengthening Protections Against Domestic Violence, by authors Sarah White, Christine Scartz, and Jamie Bormann. This article discusses the increasing incidence of domestic violence since the start of the pandemic and how lawyers and “legal advocates” adjusted their practices to overcome COVID-19 barriers. It explores how best practices have evolved from 2019 to 2021 and how to structure a strong virtual assistance model. The article provides solutions to practical problems ranging from serving process to ensuring fair and effective ex parte hearings.

Next, Margaret “Pegi” Price and Jack Hamlin analyze extraordinary challenges that COVID-19 poses for the special needs community. COVID-19 and Families with Special Needs provides concrete examples of family struggles in response to unexpected technological, social, and legal impediments. Contagious disease, masks, virtual communications, and social distancing disrupted mechanisms that individuals with special needs and their families relied on to navigate law and daily life. Reading the article will help lawyers and judges better understand how familiar pandemic stressors are exacerbated in families with special needs.

The fourth article is a deep dive into divergent trial court approaches to custody cases during the early days of the pandemic. The New York Law School Family Law Quarterly Student Editors studied responses to parenting issues from March through September 2020. Part I of Co-Parenting During the Lockdown: COVID-19 and Child Custody Cases Before the Vaccine considers matters in which a parent objected to minor children spending time in two separate households while individuals were supposed to practice social distancing. Part II examines “hotspot” cases where parents resided in jurisdictions with vastly different COVID-19 infection rates. Part III examines cases where disputes centered on compliance with government guidance on subjects such as testing, mask-wearing, quarantining, and social distancing.

The fifth article is Family Law Court Proceedings in the Pandemic’s First Year, which is a project of the University of North Carolina School of Law Research Team headed by UNC Professor Maxine Eichner. It examines responses to the pandemic in the form of judicial rules and executive orders. Work performed on behalf of the Uniform Law Commission’s Study Committee on Family Court Emergency Procedures served as the article’s foundation. The ULC elected to discontinue the Study Committee because the Conference of Chief Justices already was implementing state-court-based policies to address COVID-19. However, first-year law school students at the University of North Carolina School of Law already had conducted extensive research for the Study Committee. The law students converted their research into a piece that shows significant differences in state responses to family cases during the pandemic.

Samuel V. Schoonmaker IV, Issue Editor and Editorial Board member, Family Law Quarterly

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