Probate and Family Court Rules Probate and Family Court Standing Order 1-21: Court operations
Table of Contents
On May 17, 2021, Governor Charles Baker announced that the State of Emergency enacted on March 10, 2020 will be lifted on June 15, 2021. To maintain consistency among the Divisions of the Probate and Family Court, this Standing Order shall supersede any administrative or scheduling protocols previously instituted by any Division of the Probate and Family Court in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Standing Order 1-20, Standing Order 2-20, Standing Order 2-20, as amended April 6,2020, Standing Order 2-20, as amended May 4, 2020, Standing Order 2-20, as amended June 1, 2020, Standing Order 2-20, as amended June 11, 2020 and Standing Order 2-20 as amended July 1, 2020.
It is hereby ORDERED, effective July 12, 2021, that the Divisions of the Probate and Family Court will operate subject to the following conditions.
1. Court Operations as of July 12, 2021
Effective July 12, 2021, the Probate and Family Court will be open to conduct all emergency and non-emergency court business in person, except for the matters identified in Paragraph C below and any matter that a judge determines shall be held virtually.
The ability to conduct in-person hearings depends upon successful compliance with all safety protocols established by the Trial Court, including, but not limited to, Trial Court occupancy limits.
All judges and all judicial and Registry staff shall report to their assigned work location as determined by the First Justice and Register. All requests for, and approval of, remote or hybrid work by judicial and Registry staff must be consistent with all Trial Court policies and procedures.
Parties may file pleadings by US mail, in person, or by e-filing where available. Email filings will be accepted when done so by a Court Service Center staff member or by an attorney volunteering through a Lawyer for the Day program on behalf of a self- represented litigant or if specifically authorized by the Supreme Judicial Court or the Executive Office of the Trial Court. Other email filings may be allowed at the discretion of each Register of Probate. Drop boxes may be available to file pleadings in some court locations.
Electronic signatures will continue to be used, consistent with the current order of the Supreme Judicial Court, unless and until otherwise amended by subsequent orders or rules.
Virtual registries may continue to be used. Virtual registries offer all of the assistance normally available during an in-person visit, including face-to-face contact, the ability to obtain and get assistance with court forms, and access to court documents and docket information. Information about virtual registries can be found here.
Specific information about each division’s court operations will be available at www.mass.gov/courts.
B. In-person proceedings
As of July 12, 2021, the Probate and Family Court will expand the scheduling of in- person hearings for all matters, except for the matters identified in Paragraph C below and any matter that a judge determines shall be held virtually. In-person hearings will be scheduled for the next available date and will be conducted on a staggered schedule.
If notice has already gone out and a matter is scheduled for a virtual hearing on or after July 12, 2021, the matter will still be held virtually unless the assigned judge determines the matter should be heard in person and the parties are notified of such change.
Where an in-person hearing is scheduled, a party may request that the hearing be conducted virtually, and the judge will rule on the request.
Alternatively, a judge, upon request, may authorize a participant (an attorney, party, or witness) to appear virtually while other participants appear in person, so long as it is consistent with due process and fundamental fairness. A participant who requests to appear virtually for an otherwise in-person proceeding shall have no grounds to object to other participants appearing in person.
C. Virtual proceedings
The following matters shall be held virtually and on a staggered schedule:
- Uncontested adoptions, unless the assigned judge determines that the matter should be heard in person;
- Uncontested divorces;
- Rogers reviews;
- Best efforts § 29B annual reviews – DCF custody;
- Any action involving child support only, except for contempt actions;
- Case Management/Status conferences; and
- Discovery motions.
Matters that are generally handled administratively (e.g., marriage without delay; joint modification); uncontested/assented to motions (e.g., appointment of GAL; continue date of hearing; file marriage certificate late); and uncontested/routine allowables in probate actions (e.g., informal petition; transfer of guardianship or conservatorship from another state; accounts; appointment of GAL; license to sell; alternative service; waiver of sureties; motion to file death certificate late) will continue to be handled administratively. If such a matter is not handled administratively, a virtual hearing will be scheduled.
In the absence of exceptional circumstances, as determined by the judge conducting the hearing, no party or attorney for a party may be physically present in the courtroom for a scheduled virtual hearing.
However, in cases with one or more self-represented litigants, judges shall consider the possibility that self-represented litigants may have limited access to the technology needed or limited experience with such technology and either assist the self-represented litigant or offer the option to appear in person.
A judge may also consider matters through an administrative review process and determine motions in accordance with Rule 78.
- Parent Education requirements continue to be governed by Temporary Amendment to Standing Order 2-16: Parent Education Program Attendance.
- Lawyer of the Day programs may be conducted in person and virtually.
- Any person who was been ordered to perform community service must resume performing such community service, if such community service has not already resumed.