Family Law and COVID-19
Written by Brooke Keane
Family Law disputes, whether they be about care arrangements for children, dividing assets or both, are stressful at the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty and confusion as to what we currently can and cannot do, is no doubt adding to the stress experienced by most caught up in the Family Law system. Those still making their way through the system will be confused about how COVID-19 impacts upon their case and those “lucky” enough to have final orders may be wondering how COVID-19 is or will affect their parenting orders/arrangements.
We have orders, what now?
It is important to remember that parenting orders are binding and enforceable, however, you and the other parent may have to be flexible and agree to temporary changes to arrangements where parts of the Orders have become impractical in light of restrictions. For example, if changeover was to take place at a location that has been closed by government restrictions, a different location will likely have to be agreed upon.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, not every set of parents is able to negotiate with each other in relation to any temporary adjustments to Orders. If this is not possible and the assistance of a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner, through, for example, Relationships Australia http://www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/services/family-dispute-resolution/family-dispute-resolution-mediation-text , then it may be best to seek legal advice as how best to proceed. If you cannot afford the assistance of a lawyer, you may be able to obtain advice from Legal Aid or a community legal centre.
The Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia has published “Top Ten Guide for Separated Parents During Covid-19 which can be read on this link -https://www.familylawsection.org.au/images//documents/online-news/FLS_Ten-tips-for-managing-parenting-in-a-pandemic_20200319.pdf.
We are in court or about to start court proceedings
While the situation with restrictions on our movements, social distancing and potential lockdowns may change daily, the Family Law Courts (Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia) are still operating.
Urgent parenting disputes will be given priority by the Family Law Courts.
Procedures have been put in place to increase safety and to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Many court appearances will now be conducted by telephone. Other matters may be adjourned to a later date.
If you have an upcoming Court date and do not know if you are meant to attend, your lawyer will be able to tell you what will be happening with your particular matter. If you do not have a lawyer (self-represented) you should make sure that you have filed a Notice of Address for Service with the Court so that the Court knows how to contact you. Further information about the changes to the operation of Family Law Courts in light of COVID-19 can be found at http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fccweb/online-services/covid/covid-news-hp and http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/online-services/covid/covid-news-hp.