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Judicial Council endorses pilot project for agency e-filing

Child support documents could be electronically filed by a state agency under a pilot program authorized by a rule change approved on Nov. 30 by the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of Virginia’s policymaking body.

If approved by the Supreme Court, proposed new Rule 8:9 empowers the court to establish a pilot program for the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement to e-file pleadings, motions, briefs and other documents in Virginia juvenile and domestic relations courts.

Under current practice, paper documents are filed, with data entry done manually. Adoption of e-filing would save time in clerks’ offices, because staff will not have to image case papers or enter case data into the case management system, according to a report submitted to the Judicial Council by the Advisory Committee on Rules and Procedure

Under draft Rule 8:9, the definitions set forth in Supreme Court Rule 1:17(b), the general rule covering e-filing, would apply, except for the definition of “Electronically Filed Case.” System operational standards also would conform to standards under Rule 1:17(c).

In other action, the Council approved changes to online court forms, including changing parental titles on name-change applications to gender-neutral terms, in the wake of the approval of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Virginia Code Commission has undertaken a comprehensive review of the Code for possible linguistic changes to statutes.

Council also discussed proposed changes to Rule 1:5 necessary to clarify the manner in which a court may keep the residence of an unrepresented party under seal, while allowing for service of process to that party.

Proposed amendments to Rule 1:5 were offered for comment last summer, and comments generally were supportive, according to a rules advisory committee report. A divorced domestic relations litigant who has appeared pro se expressed reservations about providing her address to a former mate who could stalk her, but the committee concluded there are “ample mechanisms” in both statutes and court rules to prevent such abuse in appropriate individual cases, the report said.

“Creating a blanket no-address policy for pro se litigants, or even domestic relations pro se litigants, did not seem” to be wise or necessary, the committee said, and Virginia’s service-of-process statutes appear to require that a proper address be provided to the courts by pro se litigants.

Council deferred action on a final version of Rule 1:5 changes to its next meeting, May 26, 2016.

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