Pennsylvania Courts Have a Backlog That Will Affect Contested Divorces
While Pennsylvania has among the lowest divorce rates in the country (9.2% according to 2017 data), there are still thousands of cases on the dockets at any given time in the state. The COVID-19 crisis has put a halt to many in-person court proceedings, and courts have yet to resume these proceedings except on a very limited basis. As a result, you can expect your contested divorce hearing to be delayed for some time.
Courts Are Struggling to Accommodate In-Person Hearings
Courts will eventually hear contested divorce cases, but in-person trials are still a bit in the future. This could make it difficult to conduct a full trial with witnesses and evidence. For the foreseeable future, contested divorce hearings would still be delayed as courts will struggle to accommodate these logistically. Moreover, judges are still clearing their backlog of urgent custody matters that they were not about to reach during the height of the pandemic.
Pennsylvania courts are limited as to what types of proceedings they can conduct right now due to the pandemic. Across the Keystone State, courts are opening on a limited basis. However, for the time being, most judges and court personnel are operating remotely. Only the most urgent matters are being dealt with on an in-person basis right now. Other than that, each jurisdiction is proceeding differently. For example, Philadelphia has canceled all in-person hearings through the end of the year but will conduct protracted hearings remotely over video conference.
Divorce Hearings Often Come Last
This will likely mean that judges have more pressing matters to get to before they reach a contested divorce case. For example, a family court judge may first want to handle emergency custody petitions or matters where the welfare of a child could be in jeopardy. This may require an in-person hearing.
However, contested divorces are not viewed in the same light. Most divorces will end up settling before they reach a court hearing. Judges often view contested result hearings as matters where the two parties simply cannot get along and agree with each other. These are hearings that judges do not like to schedule even when there is not a pandemic. This sentiment will only be enhanced now that court resources are very limited.
Nobody Knows How Long the Backlog Will Last
If you are wondering how long the backlog may last, it is really anybody’s guess. Family court matters are continuing to pile up as judges maintain limited schedules. Even when judges begin to clear their case backlog, their priority will not be contested divorce hearings. These will generally get pushed to the back of the list. If any emergencies are at issue such as custody matters, judges may schedule a remote hearing as opposed to an entire trial in person.
It is very difficult for the court to conduct an entire contested divorce hearing remotely with witnesses and your divorce lawyer. Coordinating a virtual trial with witnesses and other evidence will be a tall task for a court, even though this is how courts intend to hear cases for the foreseeable future. As a party to a divorce trial, you may not even want a remote divorce hearing to decide your case due to the difficulty of arguing your case. Even if it is possible, there is still a substantial backlog.
As a result, your best bet as a divorce litigant is to try to mediate or settle the case without the need for a judge to conduct the trial. If there was ever a time for collaborative divorce or settlement, now is it. Of course, even though analysts always urge you to avoid a trial, we recognize that it takes two to work together to settle the divorce. However, you should understand that going to court will mean that your divorce will take much longer to resolve. This could impact property division and other issues.
To learn more about the status of the courts and how it could affect your divorce, contact the divorce lawyer Joanne Kleiner at (215) 886-1266 to set up a consultation. Our office is located in Jenkintown, PA, but we’re taking social distancing measures to serve clients remotely.