How COVID-19 Has Changed Court Family Law

How COVID-19 Has Changed Court Family Law

For almost a year now, countries and governmental structures have been doing their best to adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 has thrown their way.

Like in almost all other aspects of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many changes in how court family law works. Some changes are substantial, while others are more subtle.

As court family law experts in Sydney, we have compiled a list of some important factors that involve COVID-19 and court family law. It is important to note that things are changing all the time as new regulations are put in place, and restrictions are eased.

Some Of The Most Important Changes

During the COVID-19 peak of 2020, the Family and Federal Circuit Court introduced the criteria that assist with the order of which urgent matters brought about by the pandemic need to be addressed. 

The Australian court reviewed some of its systems regarding parental orders, hearings, and affidavits. In an effort to comply with social distancing regulations, many procedures can now take place virtually. Filing new cases and issuing hearing dates are now all done online.

Like with all other industries, professionals working in court are urged to stay at home if they are showing symptoms, and this may have an effect on the efficiency of proceedings.

Criteria For The COVID-19 List

In order to be considered for the COVID-19 List, the application must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The application has been filed as a direct result of, or if indirect, has a significant connection to, the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. The matter is urgent or of a priority nature;
  3. The application is accompanied by an Affidavit (using the COVID-19 template affidavit for The FCoA or FCC) that addresses the criteria;
  4. If safe to do so, reasonable attempts have been made to resolve the issue but were unsuccessful; and the matter is capable of being dealt with by electronic means. 

Operation Of The COVID-19 List

  1. The COVID-19 List is an initiative of the Chief Justice/Chief Judge and is at all times managed and overseen by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge.
  2. The COVID-19 List will operate in each Court and be administered by the National COVID-19 List Registrars. The National Registrars will, under arrangements set in place by the Chief Justice, consider the urgency or other priority of the applications filed and, if the criteria are met, triage them to Judges or Senior Registrars in each Court who have been assigned to the COVID-19 List.
  3. In triaging an application, the National Registrar will consider whether the matter is suitable for an urgent electronic mediation or conciliation and may make orders to facilitate this.
  4. Applications that meet the COVID-19 criteria will be given a first return date before a National Registrar, Senior Registrar, or a Judge within 3 business days of being considered by the National Registrar if assessed as urgent, or otherwise within 7 business days if priority but not urgent.
  5. If the application does not meet the relevant criteria for inclusion in the COVID-19 List, it will be referred to the duty Registrar for listing, listed into a duty list or referred to the relevant docket Judge, if applicable, for hearing in the ordinary course.
  6. Judges and/or Senior Registrars will hear matters allocated via the COVID-19 List by the National COVID-19 List Registrars on a national basis as allocated by the Chief Justice/Chief Judge, subject to demand and available judicial resources.
  7. If a matter involves significant risk to the parties and/or the children, it will be referred directly to a Judge by the National Registrar.
  8. If the application is part of an existing proceeding, the Judge managing the matter will be consulted in the listing process and invited to mention the application within the required time period if possible.
  9. The COVID-19 List will operate electronically, meaning that the application may be heard by a Judge or Senior Registrar from any Registry.
  10. If a matter is listed for an urgent hearing before a Judge or Senior Registrar via the National COVID-19 List, that Judge or Senior Registrar will only hear the discrete COVID-19 related issue or put interim arrangements in place to deal with the circumstances of urgency. Once that issue is dealt with, the remainder of the matter will be case managed by the docket Judge or a Registrar as appropriate.

Here are a few case examples and the impact of the revised system.

Divorce

Parenting Orders

Due to the current pandemic, divorce is not currently seen as an urgent matter by the court. All divorce proceedings can be done through online portals. The procedure is efficient, but you may experience some delays depending on staff and judge availability.

Parenting orders have a higher priority than divorces, but parents are urged to act responsibly during these times. Parents separated from their children because of border restrictions are encouraged to keep in contact with their children, maintain their relationships, and meet their parental responsibilities to the best of their ability. 

Cases Involving Children

Cases involving children are top priority, especially matters such as neglect, abduction, and abuse. Although these cases are highly prioritised, hearings may take a bit longer than usual so be sure to have reliable legal counsel on your side.

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