Since the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic began in the United States, state and local courthouses have closed or postponed hearings to slow the spread of the virus. Uncertainty about whether a courthouse is open or if a hearing is still scheduled can be frustrating and frightening. We hope the resources below and our Frequently Asked Questions will help you navigate this rapidly changing time. If you still have questions after reading the FAQs, please do not hesitate to reach out via our WomensLaw Email Hotline.
- How do I know if my local courthouse is still open?
- I’m not sure if my court date is still scheduled. What do I do?
- What happens if my court date was canceled or postponed (adjourned)?
- What should I do about my case if I test positive for COVID-19 or I am experiencing symptoms?
- I don’t have a restraining order, but I need one. Can I still get one?
- I already have a temporary restraining order. My courthouse has canceled in-person hearings. Can I still get a final order?
- My restraining order has been violated. What can I do?
You can call your local courthouse or your attorney (if you have one) directly to find out what court appearances are still taking place. You can find contact information for local courts in your state in WomensLaw.org’s Courthouse Locations section. You can also find your specific courthouse information in any documents you have from your case. If you are unable to reach anyone by phone, try your state court’s website. To find out the status of your state or local court, you can visit the National Center for State Courts’ website where you can find the latest information on your state and local courts and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
You should first try to call or check online to find out if your courthouse is open and if your court hearing is still on the calendar. If your court appearance or hearing has not been postponed, and you do not appear, there may be consequences. For example, if your case is a criminal case and you do not appear, the judge might revoke your bail, issue a warrant for your arrest, or take other steps. In a civil case, a judge might dismiss a petition or issue a default judgment for the other party (depending on if you are the petitioner or respondent). If you are unsure or unable to determine if your court date is still scheduled, you may want to consider making plans to attend until you hear otherwise.
If you find out that your court case has been postponed, the letter or the notice where you learned this information should also explain what will happen to your case going forward. If you received a letter, it might set a new date for your case. If the court is closed, then there may be a time in the future when the court will begin to reschedule court appearances. If you still have questions, you may be able to call the court clerk for more information. If you already have a restraining order, you can ask the court clerk if the expiration date has been extended. If it has been extended, ask for the new expiration date and request a confirmation letter in the mail. If your court date was canceled, you can ask if there is a new date. If there is a new date, ask for a confirmation letter in the mail.
If you think you are sick, review the symptoms of COVID-19 and call your doctor or local health department. Ask your doctor to email you a letter immediately that mentions your symptoms and ask the doctor to specifically recommend that you do not attend court. You should also contact the court clerk where your case is pending to let them know about your situation and to ask for an adjournment. Ask the clerk for an email address where you can send the doctor’s note as proof that you are sick. The court should postpone your case so that you can take the time you need to recover and lower the risk that you might spread the virus to others. If you are not well enough to contact the court on your own, you may be able to have someone else reach out to them for you. Once you email your doctor’s letter, you should follow up with the clerk to make sure that the letter was received and that it was sent to the judge and to the opposing party or their lawyer.
Most courts are continuing to issue restraining orders (also called protection orders, injunctions, orders of protection, protective orders, or other similar names). Check with your courthouse to see if the filing location or hours have changed with the new COVID-19 precautions in place, or if online filing is permitted. Your local courthouse may have forms available to request a restraining order. You might also be able to find forms on your state court’s website or on WomensLaw.org’s Download Court Forms page.
You can also check WomensLaw.org’s Restraining Orders page for help determining whether you would qualify for an order. If you are in immediate danger, you may want to consider contacting the police if that is a safe option for you.
In light of the current pandemic, many courts are extending temporary restraining orders so that they do not expire before you are able to have a hearing to get a final order. Some courts are sending letters to individuals about their specific case, and some are issuing statewide notices about the status of the courts and court orders. You may or you may not receive notice from the court about an extension. You should not assume that your order is extended unless you have received a letter that says this, or unless your state has issued a statewide notice about restraining orders. You may want to call the court for further guidance on extending or keeping in place your current restraining order. The paperwork you received after the court granted the initial order may have contact information, or you can look on WomensLaw.org’s Courthouse Locations page. You can also find state-by-state information about court operations in this time of crisis on the National Center for State Courts’ website.
If your order has been violated, or if you are in immediate danger, you may want to consider contacting the police if that is a safe option for you. Violations of protection/restraining orders are usually arrestable offenses. If you are not already working with a local victim advocate, you may want to consider finding one. We have a list of Advocates and Shelters in your state on WomensLaw.org. They can help assess your risk and safety plan around your unique situation. For general safety tips, please visit the WomensLaw Safety Tips page. If you are concerned for your tech-related safety, especially if you are using technology now more than before, please check out additional resources in TechSafety.org’s Survivor Toolkit.