In the wake of COVD-19, much like restaurants, businesses and other places where groups of people gather in the United States, Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts are temporarily closed until further notice. These closures undoubtedly will have a ripple effect on cases pending in the court and new cases to be filed. The corona virus has disrupted daily life activities and has unfortunately impacted court proceedings as well.
What Will Happen with Scheduled Hearings:
Consequently, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court has ordered that effective March 18, 2020, whenever possible, the Court will hold hearings via telephone or video conference, with the exception of restraining orders, which will be heard in the normal course.
Motions, Case Management, Status, and Pre-Trial Conferences:
If you have a motion, case management conference, or status conference already scheduled between March 18, 2020 and May 1, 2020, it will likely be heard via telephone and video conference. Cases scheduled for pre-trial conferences between March 18, 2020 and May 1, 2020 will not automatically be heard via telephone or video conference. Rather, they will be individually reviewed by the Court to determine whether they will be rescheduled or heard via telephone or video conference.
If you have a trial that has already started, it will continue as scheduled. Trials that are yet to begin, however, will be continued to some time after May 1, 2020.
Child Support, Alimony, and DOR Hearings:
Complaints for Modification to increase or reduce child support or alimony will be continued to after May 1, 2020, absent a demonstration of exigent circumstances. If you have an exigent circumstance, however, the request may be decided on the pleadings alone (meaning just based on the documents, without any oral argument heard by the judge).
DOR Block Days will also be limited to thirty (30) cases/day for the foreseeable future.
Guardianships / Conservatorships:
Temporary orders of appointment of guardianships and conservatorships to expire between March 18, 2020 and May 1, 2020 will be extended without a hearing (i.e., administratively) for sixty (60) days from the expiration date unless contested.
What Should You Expect in the Meantime?:
The Probate and Family Court has not announced exactly how they plan on implementing telephone and video conferences. Much like you, we are waiting for further instructions. We will provide updates as they become available and we will also provide some insight as soon as we hear anything from other attorneys in the community once the phone or video conference hearings have started. Make sure you check back often for updates.
No matter what - make sure you make every attempt to abide by any court order currently in place, we don't know how much leniency the court will give parties due to outside factors like quarantines.