In light of the rapid rise of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout all corners of the world in recent months, all experts now appear to agree that “social distancing” is critical to stemming the continued spread of the disease and, ultimately, saving lives. Many public and private entities have taken heed of the need for “social distancing” and have begun to adjust their day-to-day protocols in order to support this practice.
Ohio’s Domestic Relations Courts are no exception. Within the past week alone, the vast majority of Northeast Ohio’s Domestic Relations Courts have, as a practical matter, had to drastically change the way they do business in response to this unprecedented public health crisis. This has not only had an immediate impact on judges, magistrates, court personnel and attorneys, but it has—and will continue, for the foreseeable future—to have an impact on litigants as well.
County-By-County Survey of Domestic Relations Court COVID-19 Protocols
As each Northeast Ohio Domestic Relations Court has responded differently in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a county-by-county analysis of each court’s publicly released adjusted protocols is essential.
The following is accurate as of March 23, 2020:
Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court
All non-essential proceedings have been—or will be—continued. Where practical, these non-essential proceedings will, instead, be conducted electronically, either by telephone or video.
Public access to the Domestic Relations Court is presently limited solely to:
- Persons present for a court hearing or an event that has not been canceled,
- Persons seeking to file for a domestic violence civil protection order, as identified by the Domestic Violence Help Center on a case by case basis (specifically, those seeking to file a Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order must call (216) 698-8529 before traveling to Court)
All other usual court resources are available via phone (or email, where applicable), including the Court Help Center and the Domestic Violence Help Center. The Clerk’s Office remains open. For those persons permitted to enter the Domestic Relations Court, mandatory preliminary screening, which includes questions as to recent travel and respiratory infection symptoms, as well as the taking of forehead temperature, will be in effect until further notice. Minor children shall, in no case, be permitted to enter the Domestic Relations Courthouse.
Geauga County Domestic Relations Court
Pretrials, similar trial management proceedings and hearings will occur by video or telephone unless otherwise ordered. Attorneys and litigations in domestic relations cases should utilize the e-filing system for all filing needs, with the exception of Protection Order cases. All Motions for Temporary Support shall be ruled on by Affidavit. Emergency motions shall be addressed on a case-by-case basis and shall be heard at the Court’s discretion. Civil Stalking Protection Order Cases and Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order cases will be accepted and proceed as usual. Dissolution of Marriage cases shall go forward as scheduled. All in-person mediations shall be postponed through April 10, 2020, although mediations which can be conducted by phone shall go forward as scheduled. Only counsel for parties, the parties themselves, witnesses and, where relevant, victims, shall be permitted in the courtrooms, unless otherwise permitted by a judge or magistrate.
Lorain County Domestic Relations Court
In-person court business shall be limited to critical essential functions through at least April 6, 2020, which are to include, in relevant part, at least the following:
- Ex-parte Petitions for Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders and reviews;
- Ex-parte Petitions for Juvenile Civil Protection Orders and reviews;
- Ex-parte Motions for Emergency Temporary Custody and reviews;
- Final hearings for Petitions for Dissolution
All other hearings or meetings scheduled during this time shall be evaluated for participation through video or telephonic means, with those involved to be notified by the court of status. The Juvenile Clerk’s Office remains open for essential filings and payments, as well as fax filings and online payments. The Domestic Relations Clerk’s Office accepts fax filings and online payments.
Lake County Domestic Relations Court
All non-essential proceedings have been—or will be—continued. Where practical, these non-essential proceedings will, instead, be conducted electronically, either by telephone or video. Public access to the Domestic Relations Courthouse may be limited and preliminary screening restrictions may be in place based on the presently designated state of opening, use and operations of the courthouse. The Clerk’s Office shall operate with essential personnel only. Proceedings conducted electronically shall be held and recorded, if possible, and where not possible, the Court and parties shall jointly craft a statement in lieu of a transcript of the proceedings in accordance with the appellate rules.
Medina County Domestic Relations Court
In lieu of physical attendance at court, parties and counsel shall appear by telephone by calling into the court’s teleconference system for all scheduled hearings or court proceedings, unless otherwise designated. For Final Hearings, parties, counsel and witnesses shall use the court’s teleconference system at the time designated for their trial or final hearing. If the parties are not able to resolve their case, then all parties, counsel and relevant witnesses must be prepared to appear at the courthouse at that time, but they shall only be permitted to remain at the courthouse on the date of their final hearing if they have previously logged onto the court’s teleconference system and been given permission to appear in person. Dissolutions shall be scheduled in 30-minute blocks commencing at 9 a.m. and will proceed in-person. Motions to Show Cause initiated by the Medina County Child Support Agency will proceed in-person, as scheduled.
Summit County Domestic Relations Court
All hearings, except those relating to domestic violence actions, shall be conducted by telephone or remote video, as currently scheduled, with any exhibits submitted to the court and the opposing party via email or fax prior to the hearing. Domestic Violence ex-parte hearings shall proceed in-person on the date filed. However, if a party is seeking a Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order and he or she is ill and unable to come to the courthouse in person, he or she should contact the court in order to make alternative arrangements for the case to be filed. Furthermore, Petitions for Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders and any Parenting Proceeding Affidavits filed therewith do not need to be notarized prior to filing. Domestic Violence Evidentiary hearings shall proceed in-person within the legally required timeframes, but only the parties and their counsel may attend and, if necessary, additional witness testimony shall be heard on a subsequent date. Only counsel or parties with business before the court shall enter the Domestic Relations Courthouse. Minor children shall, in no case, be permitted to enter the Domestic Relations Courthouse. Scheduled mediations and meetings with Family Court Services Evaluators shall be conducted via telephone or Skype.
What This Means for Lawyers and Litigants
Although the extent is not yet completely known, the adjusted COVID-19 protocols of the Domestic Relations Court will, undoubtedly, have an impact on the progression of currently pending cases as well as those filed while this public health crisis remains ongoing. While Northeast Ohio’s Domestic Relations Courts certainly remain open for business, the reality is that they—like most public and private entities—are presently operating in a comparatively scaled-back manner, while prioritizing essential and emergency operations.
Ultimately, for best results, lawyers and litigants should be encouraged to practice patience and work together, now more than ever, to find mutually acceptable resolutions to the real-life challenges that they are facing.
However, in this time of real uncertainty, one thing has proven to be fairly reliable: the present situation continues to be highly dynamic. So too are the adjusted court protocols detailed above. As a result, in order to truly stay up-to-speed on this ever-changing situation, be sure to regularly check-in with each Domestic Relations Court listed above to ensure your compliance with their most recent set of protocols.
Facing these issues alone can be overwhelming. We understand what is needed to help you navigate these unchartered waters and are here to guide you. Please contact Domestic Relations & Family Law attorneys John Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.736.7289 or Janet Stewart at email@example.com or 216.736.7261.
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