Bucks County Family Court – Update to Court Access February 2021
On December 18, 2020, Bucks County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Wallace H. Bateman issued Emergency Order 2020-24 which extends the Judicial Emergency declared for the Seventh Judicial District (Bucks County) through March 31, 2021. The Judicial Emergency has been in effect since March 17, 2020 and has been the subject of several Orders. This article provides an update on how the Bucks County Family Court is currently operating under Emergency Order 2020-24.
Generally, all court operations are open during the current iteration of the Judicial Emergency. All court offices and agencies are maintaining regular business hours, however members of the public are discouraged from unnecessary visits. All visitors must wear a protective face covering, maintain social distancing and comply with all safety directives while inside court buildings. The operation of certain court offices is altered by the Emergency Order 2020-24, which strongly encourages all filing attorneys and parties to utilize e-filing systems.
The Bucks County Family Court Prothonotary has administrative control over and responsibility for all official records and documents of the family division. With the exception of spousal and child support matters, which are filed with and maintained by the Bucks County Domestic Relations Office, all court filings regarding family court matters, such as divorce, equitable distribution, custody and Protection from Abuse petitions, are submitted to the Prothonotary’s Office for processing. Currently, the Prothonotary’s Office is strongly encouraging the use of e-filing to limit traffic in and out of the office. For those individuals unable to e-file, an appointment must be made to file in person in the office. The only exceptions to the appointment requirement are emergency petitions filed under the Protection from Abuse Act and Protection for Victims of Sexual Violence and Intimidation Act.
Court proceedings are being conducted in person and through remote means. Emergency Order 2020-24 specifically permits the use of Advance Communication Technology for court proceedings whenever practicable, and addresses the conditions under which in person proceedings should take place. Currently, custody and support conferences and hearings are being conducted in person, by video conference and by telephone. The presiding Judge, Master or Officer determines whether the proceeding will be in person or conducted remotely, by either video conference or telephone, and Scheduling Orders contain instructions for participating in proceedings, including contact information and submission/presentation of exhibits. Equitable Distribution hearings before the Master are all being held remotely. Regardless of the type of proceeding, the number of matters being scheduled is less than normal and proceedings scheduled to occur in person are being given time slots so as to reduce congregate settings.
Parties to Family Court proceedings should familiarize themselves with the terms of Emergency Order 2020-24 by either discussing the Order with their attorney or reviewing the Order themselves. A copy of the Order can be found here on the Bucks County Bar Association website.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.