As family law attorneys, we work with our clients during some of the most difficult times in their lives. It is our commitment to listen, advise and assist in resolving family law matters, but when communicating with the courts, the timeline is not in our control.
We have seen tremendous change in the courts affecting family law matters during and after the pandemic. This article shares the situation of the courts and the importance of planning in advance given the significant delays we have seen in filings being received and acknowledged.
Status of the Courts 2023
Just like many businesses after Covid-19, the courts are understaffed. In the past few years, there has been significant turnover in the courts and many lawyers have lost their “go-to” point of contact. Because of this, communication with the court is more challenging. As seasoned family law attorneys, we have experienced the shifts in timelines, with filings that have in the past taken less than a week now having timelines extending to weeks if not months.
The court does not have enough employees to process the filings promptly, and like most systems, there is a trickle-down effect. The delay begins with the first action of filing paperwork and continues until the case is ultimately closed.
The situation is similar to an experience in a restaurant. While waiting for a table, you notice a vacant section of tables, yet a line out the door waiting to be seated. The situation in the courts is similar. With a shortage of staff and the loss of experienced personnel who have retired, the work is backing up and the amount of demand cannot be handled in a timely manner.
A real example of the potential adverse impact to you is alimony. You can only control your part in this process so, where possible, being timely and responsive will help us do our best to serve you. As we detail below, delays of days can have significant impacts to outcomes of family law matters.
The Importance of Timing – Calculating Alimony in Massachusetts
Timing is especially important when calculating alimony. In Massachusetts, marriage ends in the court’s eyes on the date the summons and complaint are served, not when the complaint for divorce is filed with the court. After filing, there is a waiting period for the court to issue a summons. This period used to be a matter of days, but we recently had a situation where it took eight weeks for the court to acknowledge receipt of the papers filed and issue a summons. The waiting time can affect the determination of the length of the marriage, an important factor in calculating alimony. In this case, the marriage lasted more than eight weeks after the initial filing of the complaint for divorce. Working with us to complete the paperwork for the summons to be delivered is the first step in the process. We cannot control how long the court will take to issue a summons, so we encourage you to contact us as soon as you have a decided.
The duration of alimony is calculated based on the length of the marriage. In the Commonwealth, alimony must be paid for percentage of the length of the marriage, and the longer the marriage the higher the percentage. A delay of eight weeks (adding to the duration of your marriage in the court’s eyes), could push the duration category into a higher percentage. In simple terms, time is money, and your alimony may be longer due to the current delays in the courts.
We hope during this year we will see progress and get back to being able to anticipate timelines better. The positive news is the judiciary has caught up on the backlog of cases from when the courts were closed. In the meantime, we urge you to be proactive and be aware that timing is important and makes a significant difference. At the end of the day, you can only control your part in this process, so where possible being timely and responsive will help us do our best to serve you.
The family law attorneys at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins are committed to advising, supporting and counseling you throughout the process of any family legal matter. If you or a family member or friend need help in a family law matter, please contact us. We welcome the opportunity to assist and serve you.
Our Family Law practice at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins offers experienced attorneys with proven track records resolving family law matters through mediation and litigation. Our experience includes resolving cases through collaborative negotiation and mediation and in litigating complex and contentious cases in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court system. Learn more about Attorney Michael Friedman and David Burgess.
This article is not legal advice and should not be taken as such or relied upon as legal advice.