Family Court Access During Coronavirus
During this ongoing coronavirus crisis, our clients have been concerned about access to the courts to seek protection or to resolve disputes. Matters that fall under the court’s Domestic Relations or Family Division are often contentious and require court intervention to resolve. Those matters include spousal and child support, custody, Protection from Abuse petitions and marital property disputes.
In Bucks County, on March 16, 2020 the President Judge of the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas issued an Order that declared a judicial emergency for the period of March 17, 2020 through April 14, 2020. On April 2, 2020, the President Judge issued an Order that extended the judicial emergency through May 15, 2020. It is possible that the judicial emergency could be further extended.
The effect of those Orders is to close the courts during those time periods for all matters that are not considered urgent or an emergency. This has different practical applications depending on the area of law or type of proceeding.
As the Orders apply to family matters, the Orders specifically state that “Family Court, Non-Support and Family Masters matters will be continued and re-scheduled at a later date”. The Orders also state that “The Court will continue to handle Protection from Abuse (PFA) and PFA Contempt matters”. By way of background, “Non-Support” refers to proceedings that involve non-payment of child support, and “Family Masters” refers to proceedings that involve custody and/or marital property.
Additionally, on April 8, 2020, the President Judge issued an Order that specifically addresses Family Court functions. That Order delineates between essential and non-essential operations, makes specific provisions for emergency filings and announces the use of conference calls to address certain issues.
Aside from the issuance of the Orders, it has also been made clear that the county offices that handle these matters in support of the courts are operating on shortened office hours with skeleton staffs. This means that the processing of filings that would typically be fairly quick when those offices are operating at full capacity is greatly diminished.
The takeaway from all of this is that, during this judicial emergency, the Bucks County courts continue to operate, but in a limited capacity and only to address certain types of matters. During this judicial emergency, our firm has filed pleadings that have been accepted by the court and has been involved in several matters that have been addressed by the court. If you have a matter that you believe needs to be addressed during the judicial emergency, whether you will be able to receive the immediate assistance of the court is determined by the guidelines the court has set forth as applied to the unique circumstances of your case. An experienced attorney can be helpful in giving your guidance on the issue.
While our firm has closed our physical offices to visitors and the general public to join in the fight to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, we remain hard at work and will continue to respond to mail, telephone calls, emails and voice mail messages. Dan Keane handles the firm’s family matters and can be reached at 215-348-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If Dan is not immediately available to speak with you, he will respond as soon as possible.
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.