COVID has had a significant impact on divorce and family law court cases. In March of 2020, court operations in New York were suspended due to COVID except for those matters deemed “essential.” That put most cases on hold. Later in the year, the courts began to slowly open under revised rules and procedures for filing actions. Currently, New York Family Court is taking new petitions for child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, guardianship, and other matters. Family Court is a specialized court in New York which hears cases related to children and families. It does not handle divorce matters. While you may now file in Family Court, you should understand that there are still COVID-related issues and changes which can affect your case, such as the following:
- Electronic filing. Parties need an attorney to commence new matters to file papers exclusively by electronic filing through the New York State Courts Electronic Filing System (NYSCEF). To the extent electronic filing through NYSCEF is unavailable in a court or case type, represented parties may use the Unified Court System’s Electronic Document Delivery System (EDDS) for certain documents. Those without an attorney cannot use NYSCEF or EDDS to commence an action. With this said, unrepresented parties may go to the courthouse to file documents.
- The suspension of court operations and the slow opening process have resulted in a 10-month backlog of cases in Family Court. As a result, expect delays in the processing of your case. However, you should not delay in filing a petition because you think it is best to wait for courts to catch up, particularly if you are seeking support. Child or spousal support awards are retroactive to the date of filing of the petition so there is a significant benefit to filing as soon as possible.
- Virtual proceedings. Court hearings are being conducted online rather than in-person for the foreseeable future. Most courts are either using Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business. Your attorney can assist you in using the platform and otherwise preparing for hearings.
Keep in mind that court operations are continually changing due to COVID. As such, it is always best to consult with an attorney for assistance with your matter to avoid unnecessary delays in processing your case.
If you have divorce or family law questions, please contact us to discuss how we can help you with your case.