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The Family Courts are Opening. Ready, Set, Go?

by | May 18, 2020 | Litigation, Divorce, Family Court, Family Law, Mediation

We live in a world where information changes by the minute and it now appears we have an opening day for the Courts! On May 26, 2020, after nearly 11 weeks of closure, the Court will be back open for more than just emergency orders. The clerk’s office has indicated that filings will start being accepted and the lengthy Court holiday will come to an end. So let’s all race to the Courthouse and get our divorces started… Not so fast! The Court is still trying to figure out what normal business will look like and when you might expect to have your matter heard by a Judge. As your guide, let me give you a few things to consider as you move your divorce forward…

Expect Delays  Without question, there will be substantial delays in getting hearing dates to have matters heard by a Judge. During the closure period, there were over 9,000 family law hearings already on the calendar that will have first priority to be rescheduled. Over the same 11 weeks, new divorce filings were denied so now those couples are already prepared to file once the Courts are open. On May 26th, there will be an absurd scrum for Court time that will carry over not just into the next several months, but also possibly into the next couple of years. While grappling with many needs with limited resources it is unknown when you will have your day in Court.

Filings and Paperwork  We are still waiting for direction on the impact of processing paperwork by the Court. In a previous update, the Clerk’s office indicated that it was reviewing the paperwork that had been submitted prior to the closing in an attempt to have it ready for processing once the Court reopened. Before the courts closed, some departments were taking as long as six months plus to process Judgments. It is my hope that this pause has allowed overwhelmed departments to catch up. Even if my wish comes true, there is going to be a high volume of backlogged filings that take place the moment the Court opens that will pose a challenge to the administration and further stretch the Court’s resources.

eFiling  I was very encouraged to learn that May 26, 2020 will also mark the kick-off of the Family Court’s electronic filing system where certain paperwork will be accepted via the internet. To use the eFiling system there are certain costs and processes that need to be followed and the Court will be posting a list of filings that are excluded from eFiling. My expectation is that it evolves into an easier system that saves trees, simplifies the process and eliminates long hours in lines at the Court to file paperwork. While eFiling may have a few hiccups as it gets rolled out, it provides a great opportunity to make the processing of all paperwork required in the divorce process to be much more convenient and streamlined for all of us.

Did I Mention Delays?  Health and safety concerns for Court personnel and the public will likely limit the number of people in the Courthouse and Courtrooms at any given time. The Court will be working to comply with social distancing directives and it is expected that, at least through a transition period, the Court will not be able to work through the same number of cases it could without the restrictions. The Courts were backlogged before COVID-19 and these limitations, along with the impact of the closure, will restrict Court availability and increase frustration for all parties. There is the hope that a large percentage of the Court’s work can be handled via video conference and it remains to be seen how much this impacts the caseload that can be handled each day.

Avoid It  The Court has limited resources and those limitations coupled with the work stoppage has created a difficult situation for the Court to navigate. It is my belief that the Court is doing a great job adapting to these unprecedented times and is taking great strides to use technology to allow business to resume while protecting the health and safety of all parties. Lack of courtroom availability and long lines to process litigation paperwork means putting your life on hold. Working with your spouse to reach a creative and amicable resolution of your divorce takes the decision out of a stranger’s hands and leaves it in your hands. I have vast experience navigating healthy divorce options that can save you from the turmoil the Courts are experiencing. Consider Divorce Mediation to deal with your matter now, otherwise the Court route will have you delayed in a very long line. You decide.

Ready, set, go!