Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to alter the way we live. Businesses have reduced hours, seating outside is the new norm, tables are reserved specifically for COVID social distancing, and we can’t leave our houses without a mask. The Court system in Maryland is not immune to these changes, but as they are still open for limited business, here is some helpful information regarding family law matters and Court processes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, no surprise while on Court property, you do have to wear a mask that fully covers your nose and mouth. This mask must be worn at all times, including during Court proceedings. You may be permitted to pull off your mask while you are eating or drinking, but only if you are six feet away from other people and replace your mask to its original position once you are done. During Court proceedings, the Judge or Magistrate may permit you to replace your mask with a disposable one, or with a face sheild so that you may be heard more clearly by the other parties, court reporter, and the presiding judge or magistrate. Be advised that Court officials/ staff can ask you to leave if you fail to follow social distancing guidelines and mask requirements, and disciplinary action can be taken should Court Officials deem it necessary.
If you don’t bring your mask, you may be provided with a disposable mask, or given instructions for remote access. Keep in mind that face sheilds/barriers do not count as substitutes for masks, so you will still be subject to the aforementioned alternatives should you fail to bring a face mask. In accordance with CDC guidelines, children under the age of 2, those who have trouble breathing, and anyone who would be unable to remove their mask without assistance are exempt from the mask requirements. However, everyone must remain six feet apart in keeping with social distancing and everyone entering the Court Building is subject to a COVID-19 screening. This can include having a Court official take your temperature to ensure that no one entering the building has a fever. You will be subject to further COVID-19 screening in the form of questions asked by a Court official. These questions aim to non-invasively determine your likelihood of posing a risk to others in Court. For instance, if you recently traveled out-of-state, came into contact with a COVID positive person, or went to a public event in which people around you were not wearing masks, you may be asked to handle your Court business remotely.
As of October 5th, Maryland Courts began Phase 5 of their COVID-19 reopening plan. This means that all Courts are allowed to return to normal operations, while maintaining prudent safety measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. Before going to Court, check that Court’s website to see their hours and what services they are/are not offering at that particular moment.
In a COVID-19 world, “normal operations” do not look the same as prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. In general, Circuit Courts are limiting the amount of cases that they address. Please note that this does not mean that you can’t file into an existing case, or begin a new case. For Custody and Parenting disputes, the case will be reviewed by a Judge or Magistrate to determine if there is a credible risk for the mental and physical wellbeing of the child involved. Should the Court determine that there is such a risk to the minor child, they will proceed by assigning either an in person or remote court date in order to resolve the matter. The same will hold true of all other family law matters, such as guardianship or divorce. Protective orders will be heard as per usual, based on the credible and imminent risk to the complainant’s safety. If you want to Modify an existing Court Order, the Court will again determine the imminent risk to the parties involved and assign a Court date or defer the matter. Regardless, you are required to follow the Order, exactly as stated, until the Court orders otherwise.
We hope this information will help you and your family navigate through the COVID-19 Maryland Courts. We want you to know that we are here for any legal assistance you may need during this difficult time. Give us a call at (410)-268-2488.
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