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Probate and Family Court during COVID-19

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 15, 2020

To help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Massachusetts’ courts are open for court business but courthouses are only partially open to the public. Even if you cannot go into a courthouse, you can still get help from the courts.

You can file new cases and new motions in the Probate and Family Court by regular mail, email, or e-filing. You can also file in person. The method that you chose to file your case or motion will depend on if your issue is considered an “emergency” and which county your case is in.

The Court is hearing both emergency and non-emergency cases. The Court will hear non-emergency cases but the scheduling of emergency cases will take precedent.

Whenever possible, the court will hold hearings over the phone or by videoconference.

What is an emergency?

  • New 209A Restraining Orders.
  • Orders to make one spouse move out of your home during a divorce.
  • Petitions or motions that ask the court for medical orders:
    • Do Not Resuscitate,
    • Do Not Intubate.
    • Comfort Measures Only
    • Authorization for medical treatment, and
    • Antipsychotic medication.
  • Petitions that ask the court to appoint a temporary guardian or a conservator.
  • Petitions for protective services.
  • Health Care Proxy actions.
  • Petitions or motions to appoint a Special Personal Representative.
  • Petitions for marriage without delay.
  • All Complaints for Dependency (SIJS).
  • All requests for injunctive relief, if you need to ask the court to order someone to stop doing something harmful to you, and it is not a 209A.
  • Cases when there are “exigent” or “extraordinary” circumstances that create an emergency. Including Complaints for Contempt.

See What if my case is not on this list of emergencies, but I think it is an emergency?

How do I file an emergency matter during this state of emergency?

Email or e-file your paperwork to the court, if you can. Each courthouse has a special email address for filing. You can file in-person or file your paperwork by leaving by leaving them in the “drop box” outside of the courthouse.

If you have questions, call your court. If you cannot get through to your court, call the Trial Court Helpline: (833) 912-6878, 8:30am - 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.

Note:

In Hampden County Probate and Family Court emergency matters may only be filed by email.

What if my case is not on this list of emergencies, but I think it is an emergency?

If you think you have an emergency, and it is not listed above, speak to someone at the court. You will have to show the court that your matter:

1. is serious and immediate, and

2. significant harm may occur if you do not get a hearing.

The court may ask you to write a statement that explains why your matter is an emergency. The judge may decide it is not an emergency. See Probate and Family Court FAQs related to COVID-19, question 2

What if I have a court order that expires during this state of emergency?

Call your court. If you cannot get through to your court, call the Trial Court Helpline: (833) 912-6878, 8:30am - 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.

Keep an eye out for a new notice in the mail or call your court-appointed lawyer.

What if I already have a hearing scheduled in a non-emergency matter?

The court is attempting to hear all types of family court hearing by phone or video conference. 

Pay close attention to any mail, email, or phone call you get from a court about your case. Your hearing date may change several times. Carefully read everything the court sends you and call the court right away if you have any questions.

To be sure that your hearing will be heard on the originally scheduled date, contact the court by email. See the list of Probate and Family Court email addresses.

What if I have a trial or evidentiary hearing scheduled during this state of emergency?

If you have a trial or evidentiary hearing scheduled during this state of emergency, you may file a motion to ask the court for a hearing by telephone or video conference.   A judge can decide to allow you to have your trial or evidentiary hearing by telephone or video conference. But they may decide your motion needs a hearing and that hearing will be over the telephone.

How do I file court papers for non-emergency matters during the state of emergency?

The Court will hear non-emergency cases but the scheduling of emergency cases will take precedent.

If your case is not an emergency you can file by in person, mail or e-file, if e-filing is available. You can also file your paperwork by leaving by leaving them in the “drop box” outside of the courthouse.

Only Essex Probate and Family court accepts email filings from everyone.

Only staff of court service centers or attorneys volunteering for the Lawyer of the Day program may file court papers by email in all other counties.

See the list of Probate and Family Court email addresses, so you know where to file.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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