How can I start my case?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many state courts will allow you to start your case electronically - either through email or the court’s specific electronic filing system. Many states also still have in-person filing hours or drop-off services that allow for contactless in-person delivery of court filings. Additionally, you may be able to mail in your paperwork. However, the postal service is experiencing COVID-related delays. The in-person and electronic filing may be faster and more reliable than the option to send filings through the mail.
How do I serve the respondent before my hearing?
Generally, the court will allow you to serve the abuser in the same way that the court allows for filing documents. For example, if the court allows you to file your case through email, the respondent can also be served through email. Mail is often another option, but with possible delays in mail service, courts advise sending court paperwork at least 10 days ahead of time. You should confirm with a lawyer or the court clerk what form of service is acceptable.
What type of hearing will I have?
In many states, you will have a virtual hearing. Some states are having in-person hearings even if you are able to file your paperwork electronically, so always follow the instructions provided to you by the court.
What is a virtual hearing?
Virtual hearings are court hearings that take place through phone or video conferences, instead of in-person hearings in the courthouse. COVID-19 has made in-person hearings unsafe or challenging in some states, so courts are moving hearings online to continue to process cases. You can participate through video conferencing software (like Zoom) or connect by phone (if allowed by your court).
How do I know if I have a virtual hearing?
The most important thing to keep in mind is to be in contact with the court. Regardless of how you file your case or documents, someone from the court should follow up with you as to how your case will proceed. This may be through mail or phone, so be sure to give the court a current phone number and mailing address.
What will the courtroom be like for my virtual hearing?
The process for your virtual hearing will likely be very similar to an in-person hearing, but you may be kept in a virtual waiting room until your case is called. If you are calling in rather than using video conference software, not being able to see the other party and the judge may be difficult. The order of events and the procedure for conducting the hearing typically remain the same.
How do I prepare for a virtual hearing?
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your hearing.
- Think about any documents or evidence you might want the judge to see. Your evidence can include anything that helps tell your story (medical records, photographs, text messages, phone records, etc.). The judge will decide what evidence s/he is allowed to consider under your state’s rules of evidence. You may need to submit all evidence and documents to the court before the hearing by scanning the documents or taking photos of them. The court should specify how and when you should submit documents.
- Have copies of the documents with you so you can refer to them easily during the hearing.
- If possible, set up for your hearing in a location where you will not be disturbed. Make sure that the audio and video equipment you are using is working properly.
- Your court may use Zoom or other platforms (Skype, Webex) that require you to download software or an app to join the meeting. These downloads are free but make sure to download the software ahead of time. It may take time to download and you don’t want to be late to your hearing if you wait to download it right before your hearing starts. The court should provide you a link or phone number to join the hearing.
What technology do I need for a virtual hearing?
To join the hearing through video conferencing, you will need a device that has the ability to connect to the Internet. Keep in mind that you may need to have a computer, tablet, or phone that has a working camera. If you are using a cell phone that has a limited number of minutes, check that you have enough minutes available. Be aware of battery life. Keep electronics connected to a charger, if possible. Courts know that many people may need assistance to participate in a virtual hearing, but you should let them know if you need assistance. Communicate any accommodations or needs you have to the court due to any disabilities that you may have.