Jamie Sabino headshot

Supreme Judicial Court to consider virtual hearings in child custody cases

Jamie Sabino, an attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was quoted in a Jan. 30 CommonWealth Magazine article about virtual hearings in child custody cases.

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending judicial proceedings, courts have ruled that under certain circumstances, a criminal trial can be held via Zoom. Now the same question is arising in Juvenile Court: Can a termination of parental rights hearing be held virtually? 

Parents involved in care and protection cases tend to be poor, are disproportionately Black and brown and under-resourced in many ways,” said Jamie Sabino, an attorney at MLRI, a poverty law agency. “For many of them, the virtual world is not part of the world they operate in.” 

Sabino said when she worked on care and protection cases, parents often had trouble grasping the situation even when they were sitting in court. Some parents had developmental delays and almost all had experienced trauma. Sabino said the MLRI supports flexibility. Some parents might want a virtual trial to avoid the challenges of transportation or childcare. But if parents are uncomfortable with technology, she said, they must have a right to appear in person. “If being virtual in any way puts a strain on a parent trying to make their case to the court, that’s deeply unfair,” Sabino said. “They should have every opportunity to make the case in the manner they wish to do it.” 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine.