Access to family law courts in Poland in the times of Covid-19

The lockdown in Poland started on 13 March as “the state of pandemic” and it lasted two and a half months. Currently, Poland is in the  STAGE FOUR OF DEFROSTING – shopping malls opened on 4 May, hotels opened in June, preschools and libraries are being opened subject to restrictions. However, the schools remain closed and this is the forecast for September when the new school year starts.

Before the lockdown, the Polish proceedings were never considered swift and effective and the model of procedure with numerous hearings generated delays and backlogs.

After the lockdown:

1. All the hearings were suspended/cancelled;

2. The category of urgent matters was introduced and only in such the hearings were allowed at all;

3. The court deadlines were suspended and no deadlines were pending for up until the 27 May.

4. There was no access to the court files.

OFFICIALLY THE COURTS REMAINED OPEN! But in fact they operated with no hearings, so practically in writing. In effect, the judges and secretaries worked, all was done in writing, the mailing was being done the traditional way by registered mail.

NOW the hearings are going back to normal slowly, with the perspective of online hearings and the software to be used for that is Microsoft Teams. However, in practice, such hearings are rare and the judicial system prefers to adapt by installing plastic screens to separate the judges from the public and the participants are wearing masks or shields so that the hearings can be done physically in the court houses.

This situation enhanced the new solution for taking evidence.  The parties provide the questions to them in writing and the court sends them to the witnesses to answer in writing.

However, there are  the new challenges in family law issues during the lockdown. People were locked and needed to bear with the uncertainty of their position, limitation of their freedos, including the freedos of movement, threat of losing work and income and the e-learning of their kids, which was a farce in here, requiring constant participation and help from parents. In family law matters, it resulted in the increase of alimony claims as well as the claims against the infringement of contact schemes against parents limiting the access to a child. The increase of family violence was noticed by practitioners – like police and helplines (however: the actual number of claims dropped!). Practitioners also notice more paperwork with the growing number of new clients wanting to file for divorce, custody, contact, decrease of alimony…

The reality being faced now in the courts is the BACKLOG.

And the solutions to it are as follows:

  1. Remote hearings;
  2. Mediation, including online mediation;
  3. Engaging practitioners in the mediation process as mediators or attorneys participating in this process.