Much of the time on these pages, we take a bit of a sassy approach to family law matters. With the worldwide pandemic from COVID-19, we are setting aside our usual stand-up routine and standing up for you, Virginia’s men, as you attempt to deal with the Virginia courts. Here is what can and cannot be done in these perilous times.
COVID-19 is the shorthand for the Coronavirus disease of 2019, caused by the coronavirus labeled Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Because of the peculiarly aggressive nature of the coronavirus, our lives in Virginia have changed as we all work together to attempt to “flatten the curve.” or rate of infection. Schools closed. Businesses shuttered. Very nearly everything in Virginia law has shifted into a holding pattern.
The Supreme Court of Virginia, which oversees all other state courts, declared a judicial emergency on March 16. Twice the justices have extended the emergency, now scheduled to lift on May 17.
How will your family law matter move forward amid this universal threat to human health? Cautiously, to be sure: follow all the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) advisories to wash your hands, maintain social distancing, and stay at home as much as possible. Yet you can get some work done with your case, if you have partnered with a savvy law firm.
A robust 45 Circuit Courts of Virginia participate in the Virginia Judiciary E-Filing System (VJEFS), among them these not too far from our Virginia Beach offices:
- Isle of Wight
- Newport News
The courts issued an advisory that many criminal and civil matters can be handled electronically, leaning for statutory guidance on Code of Virginia § 8.01-271.01 and this, Code of Virginia § 32.1-48.013:1, aptly named, “Electronic filings as protection from communicable disease:”
“Notwithstanding Rule 1:17 of the Supreme Court of Virginia, a court in its discretion may permit the electronic or facsimile filing of a petition, notice, brief, notice of appeal, or other legal document when such filing is necessary to expedite the proceedings or to protect the public, court officials, or others participating in the proceedings from exposure to a communicable disease.”
Whether your family law case lends itself to electronic filing is best determined by your attorney and you. Some carve-outs exist to filing. You cannot file wills, codicils, testamentary trusts, negotiable instruments, or premarital agreements electronically, since the actual document that is the subject of the filing is governed by other statutes.
In addition to filing a case, some other court procedures can continue electronically:
- Parties or witnesses may appear electronically for several family law issues, such as emergency custody, domestic relations, emergency protective orders, child abuse, child neglect, and most cases heard before the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.
- One day may be added to responses under certain circumstances
- Briefs may be used in lieu of oral arguments in some courts
Your attorney is ideally suited to know the ins-and-outs of what can and cannot be done in Virginia’s courts. All cases requiring courtroom hearings and trials have been “continued,” or postponed, until at least May 17. Each Circuit Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) District Court has posted its own list of rules and limitations. Here, for example, are the procedures for Virginia Beach’s Circuit Court:
We will be working with a very limited staff; however, the Clerk’s Office will conduct all business through Building 10B of the Courthouse. For any civil or criminal filings, there will be a lock box on the steps of 10B for drop off … The lock boxes will be checked several times during the day for paper filings, and we will handle those documents as if they were brought in at the counter.
Other procedures, such as for the Virginia Beach JDR, are also available online. Again, your attorney will know best how to proceed, which legal matters are continued, and how to go about filing using lock boxes and electronic means.
If you fear that you will somehow lose ground or a strategic advantage because your case is not moving ahead, rest easy. Since nearly every case, civil and criminal, is continued until May 17 at the earliest, you will not lose your “place in line.”
Few facets (and no citizens) of Virginia life are above the law, but in the case of COVID-19, even the courts and lawyers cede ground to medical professionals. Until the courts are open for business, heed your doctor’s and VDH’s warnings to wash your hands, stay home, and stay safe.
In difficult times, and with difficult cases, The Firm For Men is ready to help. Contact us online or telephone our office at (757) 383-9184. We are scheduling virtual and phone consultations!