Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency Notice

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Probate and Family Court during COVID-19

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed June 1, 2020

Massachusetts’ courthouses are closed to the public because Governor Baker declared a state of emergency to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But the courts are still conducting some court business. Even though 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. The Court is hearing emergency cases. The Court will attempt to hear all non-emergency cases.

Whenever possible, the court will hold hearings over the phone or by videoconference.  The court asks you to file all your papers by email or e-filing, if you can. The Probate and Family Court will keep doing court business this way until July 1, 2020, maybe longer.

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

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. 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.

See the list of Probate and Family Court email addresses and phone numbers.

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?

  • If the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has custody of your children and the custody order ends between March 18 and July 1, 2020, the court will extend the order for 150 days from the expiration date. There will be no hearing.
  • If you have an order for a treatment plann that expires between March 18 and July 1, 2020 the court will extend the order for 180 days from the expiration date. There will be no hearing. An example of a treatment plan would be for antipsychotic medicine.
  • If you have a temporary order of appointment in a guardianship or a conservator case and the order expires between March 18 and July 1, 2020 the court will extend the order for 180 days from the expiration date. There will be no hearing.

The court may change these automatic extensions. Keep an eye out for a new notice in the mail or call your court-appointed lawyer.

You can ask the court for an earlier hearing date if you have one of these expiring orders. You will need to explain why you need to have the hearing sooner. A judge will review your request and decide to give you a new hearing date, or not.

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. Courts will reschedule most trials and evidentiary hearings that are not emergencies for after July 1, 2020.

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?

If your case is not an emergency you can file by mail, email, or e-file, if e-filing is available. See the list of Probate and Family Court email addresses, so you know where to file.

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