Even though the courts are closed to all but emergency matters, many people still have cases in Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts. For a lot of people, the court may not consider their situation an emergency but that doesn't mean it doesn't have urgency. And it doesn't mean you can't go ahead and continue to file new cases or file documents for existing cases.
Although each Trial Court department provided guidance specific to the cases adjudicated in that department, all of the Standing Orders reflect a common theme with regard to the filing of court documents and pleadings, the promotion of electronic filing where available. http://www.efilema.com/
For the Probate and Family Courts, unfortunately, that means only contested divorce (1B) cases are eligible for electronic filing. But, if there is an active Complaint for Modification in a prior divorce case, any subsequent pleadings can be filed electronically. That means motions, affidavits, parenting class certificates, financial statements, and a few other documents can be filed electronically. The cost to file electronically is $6.00, and even though this is more than the cost of a stamp that would be needed to mail it in, it is usually worth every penny to know that the filing has been accepted by the court. When things are mailed to the Register's Office, it may take a while to get entered, and if there is an issue with what is being filed, it will be returned by mail. This can add several extra weeks to the timeline.
It was further ordered that both court fees and e-filing Provider fees would be waived for indigent filers, upon a certification in the e-filing system that the filing party is indigent. In the normal course, an indigent filer would be required to file an affidavit of indigency and “request for waiver, substitution or payment by the commonwealth of fees,” however, the requirement of the filing of the affidavit and any supplementary affidavits, are temporarily waived until further notice.
Although waived at the time of filing, any and all documentation required by G.L. c. 261, § 27B may be requested from indigent filers, at a time either during the pendency of this temporary Order or at a later date. If at the time of any future review, the court determines that the filer was not indigent, an order for payment of the filing fee may be issued.
Anything not filed electronically must be mailed in to the court and it will be processed by court staff. We don't know right now how the reduced court staff will be able to manage the volume of mailed pleadings. On one hand, they may be able to process them more quickly if there are no distractions by people walking in with things to be filed. On the other hand, if there is a minimal number of staff in the office at any given time, timelines will likely expand.
We will stay on top of the situation and share any information as we learn it about filing pleadings with the court through blog updates.