Virtual Hearings at Family Court
This is a guide on Philadelphia Family Court Virtual Hearings during COVID-19 covering what to expect at your hearing, how to prepare, and answers other frequently asked questions.
Question: How are hearings being held during the pandemic?
Hearings are being held over a remote video platform called Ring Central. Ring Central is similar to Zoom.
Right now, most court hearings are virtual because of COVID-19. “Virtual” means that the hearing takes place over video or telephone. The Court uses a platform called RingCentral, which is like Zoom. The notice you received in the mail should tell you if your hearing is a virtual hearing. You will also get an email with instructions and the link to enter the video hearing.
The link to the remote hearing will be sent to you by email a few days before your hearing. You will click on this link to appear by video on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. To access by smartphones, you need to download the app on your iphone or android. If you do not have the ability to appear by video, then you can appear by telephone. The email from the Court will include a telephone number you can call to participate in the hearing.
At the date and time of the hearing, click on the link or call into the phone number to access the hearing. The hearing might not begin right away, you might log on and see a message on the screen that says “waiting for host to start the meeting” or something similar. Do not log off! The Court may be ready to hear your case right away, ten minutes later, or even one hour after the scheduled time. It is important to continue to try and access the hearing even after your scheduled time. You should stay on the call until you speak with someone at the Court.
Question: How will the Court tell me when my hearing is?
You will get a notice in the mail at your last address on file with the Court, and an email, if you have provided your email to the Court, with instructions and the link for the video hearing.
Question: How do I make sure the Court has my email address and phone number?
If you need to update the Court with your email address, home address, or telephone number, please contact the Family Court Domestic Relations Customer Service representatives at 215-686-7466 between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., Monday through Friday (except holidays) or via email at Philacsc@pacses.com.
When you call them, have your case ID ready.
Virtual Hearings: How to Prepare
Before the Hearing
If you want or need witnesses to be at the hearing, you should let the court know before the hearing date so the Court can send the witnesses the link for the remote hearing.
Evidence may be very helpful in your case. You must send your evidence before the hearing date. You can do this by emailing your documents before your hearing to the same email address that sent you the remote hearing link. For example, the email might look like: Courtroom3G@courts.phila.gov.
If you are appearing before a hearing officer (previously called “masters”), send your evidence to email@example.com. Some of the judges might have a different way for you to send in evidence and it is best to check with the Judge hearing your case. Some scheduling notices may include information about sending evidence to the Court.
If you need an interpreter, please contact the Court using the contact information below before the scheduled hearing date:
1501 Arch Street - 14th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Telephone (215) 686-3513
Fax: (215) 686-7931
If you need a foreign language interpreter besides Spanish, please contact the court using the contact information below before the scheduled hearing date:
1501 Arch Street - 14th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Telephone: (215) 686-8355
Fax: (215) 686-8858
During the Hearing
It is important to find a private, quiet room where you can attend the hearing. No one should be able to hear you or the other people on the video hearing. The Judge may want to speak to the children involved, so they should be close by, but not in the same room.
If you do not have a space that is private and quiet, you may be able to log on to the hearing from your car. You can also ask your local library branch or social service agency if they can help you find a quiet room to use.
Even though you are not appearing in person, it is important to dress as if you were going in person to the Court. You should dress as if you are going to a religious service or a job interview.
Remember that the Judge can see your face up close, and can see into your home during a virtual hearing. Make sure you think about what kind of facial expressions you are making. Be respectful to the Court and other party such as try not to interrupt, or Make sure that anything you would not want the Judge or the other party to see is out of view. For example, you may want to put your personal belongings away. Additionally, if your address is confidential it is important that nothing in your background displays where you live. Finally, it is possible that the Judge will ask you to show them who is in the room with you, or to show over video the condition of your house, so you should be prepared for that as well.
If you need help – Call PLA’s Family Law Intake Line
Call the Family Law Intake Line at 215.981.3838 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between the hours of 09:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Callers are not able to leave a message. The Family Law Intake Line may close early if the call volume is high. You can also apply for legal assistance from PLA online.