Courts Are More Open, But...

So it is now July, 2021 and the Suffolk County Supreme (Matrimonial Part) and Family Courts are more open than at any time during the Covid Pandemic. Of course this depends on which courtrooms, which judges, which type of cases and still safety precautions.

Is this the method of determining in person vs virtual appearances inconsistent, somewhat. Often it is more about knowing the operating procedure of each Judge and the type of courtroom that they have.

For example in the Suffolk Family Court, the Magistrates (who determine child support and spousal support issues) are almost all operating virtually. This is also true for many of the Referees (who determine custody, visitation and orders of protection). The reason for this is that they generally have smaller courtrooms and it would be much harder to maintain social distancing when the lawyers and parties are all seated at a table where they are not six feet away from each other. Given that you do not have to disclose if you are vaccinated, all attorneys and clients still wear masks and are to maintain social distancing.

In the Family Court Courtrooms where Judges preside, the courtrooms in most cases are significantly larger and it has been my experience of late that most Judges will require the in person appearance at least of the parties, but not necessarily of the attorneys. Social distancing and masks are still required of all attorneys and parties.

In the Matrimonial Part of the Suffolk County Supreme Court (Divorce Court) the answer is not so clearly defined by the size of the courtrooms as they are all large enough to conduct in person proceedings. Certain Judges want everyone to attend in person and to control the volume will continue to schedule the time of the court appearance thus reducing courthouse volume and providing more predictability in scheduling. Some of the Supreme Court Judges if the appearance is for "attorneys only" will permit virtual appearances. So it is very important, but especially so in Supreme Court to follow the guidelines and scheduling orders to know whether it is in person or virtual and with or without clients.

Last week I had a Supreme Court appearance that required in person attendance of clients and attorneys. The morning of the client advises that his mother was tested for Covid the night before and since he was in close contact with her he was tested that morning with unknown results for both PCR tests. Due to the fact that he was not yet vaccinated and was exposed to a possible Covid patient he was quarantined. Needless to say he could not come to court. So there are always going to be exceptions and you have to pay attention.