Vermont's Divorce Courts Reopen
What’s the COVID Status for Vermont Family Courts?
What is the impact on family court cases such as divorces, child support, and parentage issues? As of July, things are starting to open up and cases are being heard by judges once again, but things are not back to “normal.” Far from it.
My experience in the family courts is that for a few months, cases ground to a halt and nothing was being scheduled except true emergencies: relief from abuse orders and motions to enforce parent-child contact for children. But the courts are now scheduling more normal hearings such as final hearings in divorces, child support hearings, and the like.
The biggest difference is that the judges are requiring remote participation in hearings in many cases. The courts are sending out forms to elect whether or not to do hearings remotely in some cases (Windsor County is doing this routinely) while other courts are scheduling status conferences by telephone to hear from the lawyers or parties about ideas for holding a hearing with minimal in-person time.
I don’t know of any courts that are using video conference technology to conduct family court hearings (although perhaps Chittenden is – I haven’t had a family court case there recently).
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT MY CASE?
If you are filing a new divorce or parentage case now, you can expect some delay. The courts are working their way through a backlog, so just anticipate that where a four to six-week time frame to get an initial appearance in court (for a case managers’ conference, for example) might be what you expected, eight to ten weeks might be more likely currently, depending on which court you are in.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT WHEN I ARRIVE AT A COURTHOUSE?
If you do have an in-person hearing, expect to have a health screening at the door. This involves questions about where you have traveled and whether you have any symptoms or contact with symptomatic people. You will not be able to enter the courthouse to file documents or for any reason other than an in-person hearing. You’ll also need a mask.
Further guidance from the judiciary is here.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR REMOTE HEARINGS?
Conducting a hearing remotely is tricky, especially if you are representing yourself. Here are some tips:
Exchange all documents with the other party in advance
Number each document you expect to use in the hearing, and number each page as well
Send a complete set of documents you intend to use to the court ahead of time
Be very specific when you are on the phone or video in a hearing to refer to the documents by number and page number.
Check with the judge regularly to make sure the judge is with you in terms of looking at the right document