In COVID-19, Family Law

Throughout the pandemic, the courts have been working in a very limited capacity.  Only emergency family matters and arraignments have been taking place in person.  Beginning June, 2020, some family matters involving only attorneys and judges, such as status conferences and pre-trials, were conducted remotely.  Shortly thereafter, remote family hearings for short matters began.  Since then, the judicial branch and family bar have been testing out various new procedures, rules and formats to expand remote justice for family law.  Agreements and other pleadings were taken “on the papers,” not requiring any appearance, and full fledged hearings and trials, with cross examination and entering of exhibits, were conducted via Microsoft Teams.  Trying as it has been, at least we got movement and resolution on many cases in some courthouses.  Each court is its own island and some were more habitable than others.  Attorneys, too, varied in their willingness and ability to pivot during the health crisis.  But at least the opportunity was there.  Family law, for all its challenges, was just about the only type of case being handled remotely.   With the exception of workers’ compensation (the subject of another article), all others (criminal, personal injury, contracts, foreclosures, bankruptcy, probate) were essentially closed for business.

Effective immediately, all newly scheduled family law hearings longer than ½ day (approximately 3 hours) will be in person at the courthouse.  Meetings with family relations will also be in person. Those matters already scheduled, and new matters expected to take less time, will remain remote until further notice.  Status conferences and pretrials are expected to remain remote indefinitely.

Family court suffered a minimum three month delay for non-emergency matters (some court jurisdictions much longer).  Other court matters have been delayed for almost a year and one-half.  This means major back-log for court personnel.  It is going to take some time for the courts to triage cases and schedule them for hearings.  We are seeing a minimum of a four month wait for family matters that are either new or that were pending when the pandemic hit and have not yet been addressed by the court.  I suspect that other court matters will see an even longer wait.

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