While the Coronavirus pandemic continues to limit the scope of day-to-day life in the State of Maryland and the United States as a whole, you should know that the Courts are continuing to accept new filings, including those to initiate divorce proceedings. If you have contemplated initiating a divorce matter, you may have noticed that the Courts are operating under extremely restricted procedures. However, this does not limit your ability to move forward with a divorce filing. The attorneys here at the Law Offices of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, LLC, have the tools, experience, and knowledge to help you not only take action but also take advantage of this opportunity. While the Coronavirus may be slowing down much of the world, our team is ready to assist you at any time.
Are the Courts Closed Completely?
No. On March 25, 2020, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and administrative head of the Maryland Judicial Branch, Mary Ellen Barbera, issued an Administrative Order closing the Courts to the public, with limited exceptions, through May 1, 2020. Courts are open however, to hear emergency matters.
Can I File For Divorce Right Now?
Yes. Despite the limits on hearing cases, Clerks of Courts are still accepting pleadings. While the general public is not permitted to enter the courthouse, attorneys can file pleadings electronically through the Maryland Electronic Courts system (MDEC). Of the 24 Maryland jurisdictions, all but three (3) utilize the MDEC filing system. Those three (3) jurisdictions are Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County. The jurisdictions without MDEC have designated drop-boxes located outside of the courthouse for filing pleadings, subject to inclusion of all required documents and fees.
How Does MDEC Work?
MDEC allows attorneys to file and proceed with new or existing matters as if the Court is open for business as usual. The Clerks can electronically pull the filings and, likewise, electronically issue Writs of Summons.
My Complaint For Divorce Has Been Filed, What Happens Now?
The Clerk of the Court will issue a Writ of Summons. This Writ, along with the Complaint for Divorce, your attorney’s Entry of Appearance, and the required Domestic Case Information Sheet will be served upon your spouse. Summonses from the three (3) non-electronic filing jurisdictions should arrive within 7-10 business days. Summonses from electronic filing jurisdictions are received much earlier, generally within 48-72 hours.
How Quickly Will I Go to Court?
Unless there is a need for an emergency that falls within the enumerated limited exceptions in the Administrative Order discussed above, the Scheduling Conference will be your first appearance in Court. The Court will not set a Scheduling Conference date until your spouse has been served with the Complaint and he or she has answered.
The purpose of the Scheduling Conference is to set important dates related to the divorce and to request applicable services available to the parties. Scheduling Conferences are not considered emergency proceedings. According to the controlling Administrative Order, Courts will be fully operational starting May 4, 2020.
Why Should I File Now?
By filing now, you are reserving your spot in line for the earliest available date when Courts open. Thousands of hearings have been postponed due to the Coronavirus. This means that, once the Courts reopen, not only will the new cases be scheduled for a hearing, but all hearings that were postponed will be rescheduled. Therefore, the sooner you file, the sooner you can get in court. Moreover, by initiating a case while quarantine is in place, you secure the opportunity to obtain service upon your spouse, while you know where he or she is located.
Of equal importance, this time of restricted Court proceedings affords you more time to conduct the necessary investigation and to engage in discovery. Discovery is the evidence-gathering tool afforded to all litigants. An attorney is instrumental in the discovery process and ensuring that you use all the right tools. Our attorneys engage in discovery every day and have won cases based on our in-depth analysis and investigations.
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed much of life as we know it but it has not changed our Team’s strategy for helping our clients obtain divorces. If you have thought about filing for divorce and would like to take advantage of the expertise of the attorneys here at the Law Offices of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, please give us a call. Our Team is ready to assist you.