Urgent family law matters including those where people are at risk of family violence will be fast-tracked via a dedicated hearing list to deal with a surge in parenting matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have introduced the lists, starting today (29 April 2020), as well as introducing electronic means – from filing via email through to conducting the hearing via videoconferencing – to cope with the increase in the number of urgent applications.
Cases that qualify for the COVID-19 list will be triaged by a dedicated Registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of being assessed.
Applications the potentially qualify for the COVID-19 list include:
- Family violence: an increased risk of family violence resulting from the restrictions imposed on families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Supervised contact: the current parenting arrangements involve supervised contact, and the contact centre is closed or the supervisor is unable to perform their role, and the parties cannot agree on an alternative arrangement.
- Border restrictions: the parties live in different States or Territories and the child cannot travel between the parties’ residences due to border restrictions.
- Medical: The parties and/or child have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot fulfil the parenting obligations due to sickness or concerns of infection.
Parties will still be expected to adhere with requirements to attend Alternative Dispute Resolution prior to filing an application with the Courts, if safe and appropriate to do so. The National COVID-19 Registrar may also make orders for parties to attend electronic mediation, if appropriate.
A statement from the Courts said there had been a 39 per cent increase in the number of urgent applications filed with the Family Court of Australia over a four-week period in March and April, and a 23 per cent per cent increase in the Federal Circuit Court.
The Courts have also been advised by Women’s Legal Services of an increase in the number of enquiries that they have received that relate to COVID-19 and parenting matters.
In the statement, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said that applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the COVID-19 List, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention.
“It is important that these urgent COVID-19 applications are closely managed on a national basis so that they can be heard as swiftly as possible given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing.
“I would also like the public to know that if they need to file an urgent application because they have been directly impacted by COVID-19, it will be heard electronically as quickly as possible by a Judge from any Registry of the Courts.”
The COVID-19 List will operate initially for approximately three months before being reviewed.
Recently, Foye Legal hosted a Facebook Live session answering questions about family law issues during COVID-19. You can watch the session below.
Foye Legal Senior Associate Lawyer Roberta Allen highlighted the importance of looking out for people you suspect are experiencing family violence.
“With everyone being in lockdown and the extra pressure of job losses and the financial pressure that comes with that, as well as having children at home, for many people this will be a time of escalating fear and danger,” she said
“For anyone who is experiencing domestic violence, please remember that help is still available. Lifeline and the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1800 RESPECT remain open 24 hours a day.
With everyone being in lockdown and the extra pressure of job losses and the financial pressure that comes with that, as well as having children at home, for many people this will be a time of escalating fear and danger.Senior Associate Lawyer Roberta Allen
“Women’s Health Centres and emergency housing providers remain open, as do GPs and the police. If you need help, and are able to safely access it, please do.
“If you suspect that someone you know is experiencing Domestic Violence, please check-in on them. Let them know that you are there for them and ready to listen or help where necessary.
“If you are a neighbour, and hear something concerning, call the police. You will remain anonymous and your call could save a person’s life.”
As well as the courts, Lawyers are still supporting clients thorough COVID-19. All of us at Foye Legal understand these are difficult times and we want to help. Please talk to us today.