Is this the New Normal? Worcester County Probate Courts Open in Phases and Launch Virtual Registry
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
On July 13, 2020 the Worcester Probate and Family Court courthouses reopened for court staff and persons who are present in courthouses for attending certain in-person court proceedings; conducting in-person business with a register’s office; meeting with a probation officer or probation staff person; or conducting business at other offices that are open to the public and housed in the courthouse.
A Virtual Registry has been launched to allow individuals to connect with court staff remotely. The link is https://www.zoomgov.com/j/1614383173 and assistance is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Additional information about the Worcester Virtual Registry can be found at: https://www/mass.gov/service-details/worcester-probate-and-family-court-virtual-registry.
The Probate and Family Court will continue to conduct most business virtually. Whereas during earlier phases of the pandemic Judges were only conducting hearings on two days per week, they have resumed hearing matters five days per week. The individual assignment of cases may be relaxed which, in this writer's opinion, means that cases may be moved to different sessions to facilitate reaching cases on schedule. Hearings will continue to be conducted either telephonically or through Zoom whenever possible. The Court will send specific contact instructions in advance of the hearing. Even if a case remains scheduled on the electronic docket, you should not assume it will be heard virtually that day and if you haven't received contact instructions in advance then you are not going forward. Motions cannot be marked up for hearing when filed. All motions should be filed with a "Request for Hearing" and it will be scheduled or otherwise addressed by the Session Clerk. All new 1A Joint Petitions for Divorce are being scheduled as they are filed.
Filings in matters of urgency, such as for Domestic Abuse Restraining Orders, Petitions/motions seeking a Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Intubate/Comfort Measures Only (DNR/DNI/CMO) order, or the appointment of a temporary guardian or conservator may be done email, mail, in- person, e-filing where available, or utilizing the MassAccess filing procedure where available. In less-emergent matters parties may, in general, file by all of the above means except for email. Every courthouse location will have a drop-box for filings.
In person hearings will be held for evidentiary hearings and trials. Expect the courthouse to be a very different place, with Plexiglas enclosures and social distancing rules.
Beginning on August 10, 2020, the Probate and Family Court may begin hearing in person Motions for temporary orders involving parenting time/custody and Contempt Actions in addition to the previously listed events.
For future reference, in the event of a future, full court closure, there are no on-site Judges or support staff. The Court has promulgated contact information for contacting court personnel and/or emailing or e-filing emergency pleadings. During an emergency closure, all scheduled non-emergency telephonic or virtual hearings will be postponed in the absence of notice to the contrary. Postponed hearings will be rescheduled when the court reopens. It is very possible that Zoom hearings will go forward even if the Court is closed.
The contact list for the Worcester County Probate and Family Court is available should you need an individual's contact information. Please email Kathryn@KOlearyEsq.com.