Court Re-openings in Chester County
As of June 2, 2020, all courts in the 15th Judicial District, which include the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and all Chester County Magisterial District Courts have reopened. Although the courts have resumed regular operations and hours, they are operating under a new “Normal”. Everyone entering the Chester County Justice Center, must wear a mask. Upon entry into the building, you will be asked a series of COVID-19 related questions and your temperature will be taken by a sensor thermometer devise before you are allowed to proceed through the building. While inside the Justice Center, social distancing must be practiced at all times. There are public stairways available for use for all those capable of walking up to the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors where the courtrooms and hearing rooms are located. Given that the number of people permitted in the elevators at any one time is extremely limited, people are encouraged to use the stairs. Although it goes without saying, it bears repeating that anyone experiencing any COVID-19 related symptoms or with any known recent exposure to the virus, should not enter the Justice Center.
The Prothonotary’s Office and Family Court Administration are both open to process any filings related to custody, divorce, or Protection from Abuse. The Domestic Relations Office is open to process new Applications for Support, Petitions to Modify current support orders, and Contempt Petitions for failure to pay. Support pleadings may also be filed online through the State’s website.
While the courts are now open, that does not necessarily mean that parties will be appearing in person for all proceedings. Support conferences in Domestic Relations are being held by phone. When Domestic Relations sends out the Notice scheduling the telephone conference, they are providing instructions to the parties to provide their necessary income information to the court in advance via mail, fax, or e-mail. If the support matter is not resolved at conference, an in person hearing will be scheduled before one of the Support Masters. Parties may request to appear at the support hearing by phone or video conferencing and the court is liberally granting those requests.
Custody matters are proceeding in the same manner they were before the pandemic. All petitions related to custody must be filed in the Prothonotary’s office. The initial custody conference is held before one of the Custody Masters and those are taking place in person. However, if you have concerns about going to the courthouse in person, you may request to appear by phone or video. If necessary, any custody trials are held in person.
The divorce process is also back to normal. All pleadings are filed in the Prothonotary’s office. Any necessary hearings or conferences are being held in person, but the court is granting requests to appear by phone or video on a liberal basis. Once an agreement is reached or the matter is heard and decided by one of the Equitable Distribution Masters, the court is processing divorce decrees in the same manner it was before the pandemic.
Although the courts are back to a new “Normal”, navigating the legal process is never an easy one. If you have any questions related to Chester County family law matters, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
This alert is intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning your situation and specific legal questions you have. We are fully operational during this pandemic and stand ready to assist as you navigate this ongoing and developing COVID-19 situation.