When will the courts reopen?

Posted on Apr 24, 2020 by Katie Carter

If we’re hearing one question over and over again amidst all of this COVID-19 drama, its, “When will the courts reopen?” Quickly on its heels is another, related question: “Why don’t you know?!”

I get it, it’s frustrating. But the courts work differently – and separately – from the stay at home order issued by Governor Northam. I know it’s hard to understand (heck, it’s hard for us to understand!) but just because the stay at home order goes until June 10th doesn’t mean the courts will be closed that long.

How long will the courts be closed? What DO you know?

We know that the Supreme Court closes the court in 21 day increments. Twenty one days is an important timeframe with the court, and, legally, the court can’t close for longer than that at a stretch. In 21 days, they revisit the closure again and make a decision whether to extend it.

If you have a case coming up, particularly if your case is around the time that the judicial order closing the courts is set to expire, you probably have a ton of questions. Will your case even happen? Does your attorney really need to prepare for it now, with the governor’s stay at home order in place? How much is this costing?!

I know – it’s frustrating. And I can assure you, it’s insanely frustrating for us, too. We’re in this terrible position, where we have to decide between whether we should be as prepared as humanly possible in case some courts DO reopen with little to no notice to us, or whether we should do the best we can to conserve client resources and hope that the courts stay closed longer.

I mean, obviously, we don’t HOPE the courts will stay closed – we want them open just as much as you do! (Dare I say – even more than you do?) But when we have trials and hearings scheduled up against these deadlines and we’re waiting to decide what to do, it’s hard to know. We don’t have crystal balls, try as we might, and we don’t know what might happen. If things DO reopen, we have to be prepared! But will they? We have no idea. Remember: none of us have ever been here before, so it’s not like we (or anyone else!) have a wealth of experience to draw on.

Here’s what we DO know: On April 22nd, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court extended the court closure for a further 21 days.  As of today, the court will remain closed through May 17th.  It was originally set to reopen on April 27th, but that reopening has been delayed.  Will it be delayed again?  I think it depends on whether the curve seems to be flattening by that point, but it’s probably fairly likely — after all, that’s well before Governor Northam’s order is set to expire and he has indicated that he has no real intention of ending the stay at home order early at this point.

What if my husband isn’t following the terms of a previous order? Can I file something now?

You CAN file; the clerk’s office is still open. But, for strategic reasons, we’re choosing not to file some things right now.

There are a lot of potential show cause hearings (for things like refusing to allow visitation to take place) that we’re hearing about with parties who are deliberately abusing the pandemic to keep kids away from their other parent. There are other deadlines for other things, like discovery, that are being missed or deliberately flouted.

There’s no question – it’s a pretty infuriating time to want a divorce or a custody case resolved. And we’re with you! It’s frustrating to us, especially since we’re struggling to answer basic questions. We don’t know!

What are you doing to get these answers? My life is literally hanging in the balance!

Custody and divorce cases are important, and they impact so many areas in a person’s life. I totally get it. It’s scary, it’s awful, and when you add to that the stress of a global pandemic… well, it’s no wonder you’re kind of freaking out right now. It doesn’t help that we don’t have answers to all of your questions, or that the answers we do have (like, for example, that we’ll have to schedule a hearing to resolve an issue, and that we don’t know when that hearing will be) aren’t the ones that you want to hear.

We ARE working on it, though. A number of family law attorneys in our area are protesting by writing letters to the court. The courts are acting like certain hearings are more important than others, and are essentially putting family law issues on the backburner. Obviously, that’s not fair, and it doesn’t make sense!

Domestic violence is on the rise, and people’s children are hanging in the balance. It’s a really difficult time for everyone, and it’s not reasonable to provide speedy hearing protections to some classes of cases and not to others. We’re angry, we’re mobilized as a group, and we’re arguing with the court to help ensure that you are heard – fairly, adequately, quickly – as soon as possible.

Still, we don’t have a lot of answers. Answers in a lot of areas are in short supply. I understand the cost of all of this uncertainty on people, and I definitely sympathize. As soon as we have more information, we will share it – here, on Facebook, and in our in-person meetings – so stay tuned. Though it’s entirely possible that the world as we know it is changing, one thing is for sure: we will get in court again.

For more information, or to talk to one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.