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Not So Post-COVID Update: Connecticut Family Courts

In looking at the glass half-full, the Connecticut Family Courts are moving forward in handling cases beyond emergency Motions and Restraining Orders only.  In-person court proceedings continue to be limited to these emergency hearings, but the Courts are now virtually hearing and resolving contested motions, trials, and every type of matter that was previously resolved in-person at the courthouse, pre-Covid.  The glass is also half-empty as, practically speaking, the courts have initiated new types of proceedings that are introductory and status-like in nature where nothing is substantively resolved, and cases are bumped to a future court date.  The Court continues to face a backlog of cases in an already overburdened system where justice was slow even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Beginning in January 2021, the Connecticut Family Courts implemented a number of new procedures, some of which are likely here to stay.  They reflect a complete makeover of the way justice in the Family Courts was previously administered.  First, there are new rules and procedures for virtual hearings and trials.  Second, there is a new procedure referred to as a “Case Date,” which replaces what used to be described as “Short Calendar.”  Third, there is another new procedure called “Resolution Plan Date,” which is essentially a meeting with a Family Relations counselor who will ascertain the complexity of the case as well as how much Family Relations and Court involvement may be required.  Lastly, there is a new procedure known as a “Case Evaluation Hearing,” wherein a Judge performs essentially the same function as the Family Relations counselor in a Case Resolution Date.  That is, the Judge briefly hears about the case issues, and schedules appropriate Court dates which may be far off in the future.  Ironically, there is not a substantive “hearing” at the Case Evaluation Hearing.  In practice, the last two categories involving scheduling of future dates are what is preoccupying the calendaring of cases in the Family Court system.  This should change in time, but there is presently enormous stress on the system.  Thus, it is important to be creative, flexible, and grounded in reality.

Don’t fear – take action!

Fortunately, most cases do not need a Judge until the final hearing.  Many, but certainly not all cases can be resolved through negotiation and other non-adversarial tactics.  Fewer than ten percent of divorces ever go to trial.  To be sure, the lack of access to the courts can negatively impact a family as well as the progress of a case.  However, rather than complain, we believe the best course of action is to … take action.  For example, if negotiation fails, then it is time to consider private mediation, private Special Masters, and/or private arbitration.  In the case of custodial disagreements, creative attorneys can seek the involvement of co-parenting counselors and mental health professionals to create contractual agreements where the parents agree to abide by the recommendation of the counselor or mental health professional.  A parent can always challenge the recommendation in Court, but the language of the agreement can create incentives and consequences for not following the recommendation if a Court were to uphold the recommendation.  These are just a few quick examples.   There are more considerations available on a case-by-case basis.   The point is to be creative for the benefit of the husband/father, wife/mother, and the children. 

Importantly, divorce matters where there is a Settlement Agreement can proceed to Final Judgment “on the papers” without the parties or their attorneys having to appear in Court.  Even when Covid was at its zenith we were able to resolve a great number of cases through final dissolution. 

As stated, the Courts are continuing to hear emergency custody matters and Applications for Temporary Restraining Orders in person as they have been throughout this pandemic.

This has been an extremely difficult time for many families.  At McConnell Family Law Group, we strive to help each family in “Finding Peace Through Strength.” Take the first step now and contact our office in New Canaan (203) 344-7007; New Haven (203) 344-7762; or Hartford (860) 266-1166. Or visit us at www.mcconnellfamilylaw.com

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