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May 13, 2020 | Family Law

The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court’s Response to COVID19


Since March the court system in Massachusetts has been responding to COVID19 with a series of standing orders.  Due to COVID19, the courts have been running at a limited capacity. As of May 13th, the Courts are aiming to open to the public in some capacity by June 1st. However, where do the Courts stand now?

On April 27th the Supreme Judicial Court released a revised standing order.  Some important takeaways from the order include:

  1. All statutes of limitation are tolled from March 17, 2020, through May 31, 2020. 
  2. All orders that enjoined or otherwise restrained or prohibited a party from taking some act or engaging in some conduct until a date between March 16, 2020, and June 1, 2020, shall remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard. 
  3. All deadlines established by a court in a particular case on or before March 16, 2020, that expire between March 16, 2020, and June 1, 2020, are tolled until June 1, 2020.

Under the standing order, the Courts remain closed to the public, except where entry is required to resolve an emergency matter that cannot be addressed virtually via telephone or video conferencing. Pursuant to the standing order, each trial court department was to issue its own standing order defining what non-emergency matters that they would attempt to address virtually.  

How does this look in the Probate and Family Court?

Following the Order of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Probate and Family Court issued its own standing order:

  1. Courthouses will be closed to the general public except for emergencies that cannot be address virtually.
  2. Beginning May 11, 2020, the Probate and Family Court will attempt to gradually hear all cases, excluding trials, virtually.

What is an Emergency?

  • Emergency protection orders (209A restraining orders; orders to vacate)
  • Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Intubate/Comfort Measures Only (DNR/DNI/CMO) order
  • Authorization for medical treatment order, or order for antipsychotic medication
  • petitions seeking appointment of a temporary guardian or conservator
  • Health Care Proxy actions
  • Petitions/Motions for Appointment of Special Personal Representative;
  • Complaints for Dependency (SIJS) and any related motions
  • Requests for injunctive relief

The required parent education class for divorcing parents can now take place virtually:

  1. Classes may be conducted virtually over such platforms as zoom or
  2. by completing the 5-hour DVD or online program entitled KidCare for Co-Parents: An Educational Program for Divorcing Families.

Guardian ad Litem deadlines have been extended:

  1. Any GAL appointment made prior to March 18, 2020 is extended until June 30, 2020.
  2. If the GAL’s report is due to be filed between March 18, 2020 and May 18, 2020, the due date for the report shall be the earlier of twelve weeks from the original due date or June 30, 2020 (unless the information needed is time sensitive)

Middlesex Probate and Family Court has set forth its own policies and procedures to address numerous questions regarding their procedures during this difficult time:

When will your matter be heard at Middlesex Probate and Family Court?

  1. Emergency: If the matter is a COVID19 designated emergency, you can contact the Court at the emergency line of 617-768-5906. Submission of emergency pleadings will be made by e-mail or e-filing of available. Call the emergency line prior to submitting any documents.
  2. Non-Emergency: The Court is attempting to schedule as many non-emergency matters as possible. However, given some limitations with technology, they are limited in the amount of cases that can be heard each day. The Court will contact you. Hearings on new non-emergency matters will be scheduled in the regular course for a date after June 1, 2020.

How to file?

  1. By Mail
  • E-file (where available, such as for 1B divorces, this will not work for modifications)
  • E-mail: middlesexfilings@jud.state.ma.us
    • To file by e-mail, e-file must not be available.
    • Must be single sided.
    • Scanned or saved PDFs (no picture images)
    • Payment must be made over the phone

In the coming days, Governor Baker is set to announce in more detail Massachusetts’ reopening plan set forth in stages. That most certainly will have an impact on the Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts. Be sure to check back here for any updates regarding how the reopening plan may impact your matter in the Probate and Family Court.

If you have any questions regarding a family law matter, please reach out to the experienced family law attorneys at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins at 781-235-5500, or schedule a phone call here.

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