“We certainly do have a backlog because of the pandemic,” Chief Administrative Judge for Family Matters, Michael Albis said.
While Connecticut’s family services courtrooms have never fully closed amid COVID-19, Albis says their condensed capacity is causing cases to pile up.
“It’s in the thousands,” Albis said.
According to Judge Albis, the number of dissolution of marriage cases at the start of the pandemic was nearly 4,300. As of this January there were 6,500 pending divorce cases. There’s also been an increase in the number of pending child custody cases: at the start of the pandemic there were 1,400 cases, while the latest numbers show 1,900 pending child custody cases.
“Despite all that we did it was impossible to keep up with all the cases with limited staff, limited courts, limited ability to have people in the court room,” Albis said.
“We were all in disbelief that we were finally so close and then now it was put on hold again,” Robin Duszynski said.
On March 12, 2020, Duszynski was three days into her divorce trial when the governor ordered certain courtrooms to close.
“It is very emotional, it was a long process to begin with and then now it was back to waiting after finally getting to start the trial,” Duszynski said.
Throughout the pandemic, family court continued to receive and conduct in-person hearings on applications for temporary restraining orders and emergency orders of custody. By late June, at least one courtroom in every open court location was equipped with the technology needed to conduct virtual video hearings and other proceedings. Since then, there have been at least 84 scheduled hearings and proceedings with an additional 6,500 hearings, proceedings and trial scheduled for the months ahead.
“You know it’s not just a divorce, it’s a complete change in the way they expected their lives to be,” Attorney Jeremiah Ollennu said.
Ollennu says while courts have become more innovative during the pandemic, many of his clients are facing an even greater emotional toll while waiting.
“What we have been trying to do is connect our clients with all those resources, therapists and so on who can help them deal with the emotional aspect of the case,” Ollennu said.
Duszynski was eventually granted a virtual trial in December and her divorce is now final.
“Absolutely, once I got that judgment it was perfect time,” Duszynski said.
“My hope is that by spring we will be in a new method of doing things and it’ll be moving smoothly and we won’t have cases that have been unattended for months,” Albis said.