COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on how the Family Courts in Australia operate.
These changes are also affecting how parents and carers get information and advice, comply with court orders, attend court hearings, and satisfy their shared parenting arrangements, to name a few.
Fortunately, the Family Court of Australia have acknowledged the circumstances faced by parents and carers is highly unusual, and there may be situations where strict compliance with court orders is very difficult.
As a result, the courts have prepared a wealth of information to help parents and caregivers learn how best to communicate with the courts and meet their legal obligations during this difficult time.
Here’s a quick rundown on how to navigate through the family court restrictions during coronavirus (COVID-19).
1. Family courts are still open in a limited capacity
Both the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) will continue to perform their duties during the COVID-19 restrictions.
However, most hearings are being conducted via video conferencing through the use of Microsoft Teams or other platforms, or by telephone. Mediation is also being conducted electronically through video conferencing or telephone.
You can also contact the Courts registry service for assistance with telephone appointments, electronic filing, and listing of urgent cases.
If you need guidance or advice at this time the courts also encourage you to contact the Family Relationships Advice Line.
2. Upcoming court proceedings may be rescheduled
If you are in the middle of court proceedings, the Family Court of Australia will let you know in advance if the date of your hearing will be rescheduled or proceed as usual via telephone or videoconferencing.
3. Make sensible and reasonable adjustments to your shared parenting arrangements
You may be facing highly unusual circumstances where you and your former partner are unable to satisfy your current shared parenting arrangement.
Some of the most common reasons why COVID-19 may affect shared parenting arrangements include:
- You two can no longer meet at your usual designated ‘pick up’ area as the venue may be closed.
- You may be concerned about one or the other having recent exposure to someone with COVID-19 symptoms, or being in the vicinity of an area or building where a case of COVID-19 was reported.
- If you both live in different states, the closing of state and territory borders may affect your ability to share parenting duties.
Regardless of restrictions on family courts during COVID-19, you must both take sensible and reasonable steps to agree to a new temporary arrangement.
First, if safe to do so, talk to each other via phone, video chat, or in person (at a safe distance) about your current ability to share parenting duties. Take into fair consideration both of your unique circumstances – including your location, employment status, health and wellbeing, and more – and work together to reach a new or revised arrangement.
Most importantly, the new arrangement must be made in consideration to the safety and best interests of your child.
If you both manage to reach an agreement, you should try to get the new terms in writing, even if just through email, text message, or a social media conversation.
If you cannot reach a new agreement, then contact the Family Relationships Advice Line for information, advice, and guidance. Alternatively, talk to a family lawyer, as they can guide you through the electronic mediation process and help you both reach a mutual agreement.
4. How to comply with court orders while under self-quarantine or isolation
Right now, this is a bit of a grey area. While the Family Court of Australia is taking into account every family’s unique circumstances – in regards to a family or individual’s capacity to comply with a court order – but the given advice is not crystal clear.
In the courts own words:
“It is imperative that, even if the orders cannot be strictly adhered to and are varied by the parties, the parties ensure that the purpose or spirit of the orders are respected when considering altering arrangements, and that they act in the best interest of the children.”
At first, this advice sounds vague. However, the court does go on to say they are prioritising urgent matters that concern the safety of children, such as cases involving domestic violence.
For this reason, if you’re unsure how to comply with family court orders during COVID-19 restrictions, consider talking to a family lawyer.
5. New applications and documents can be handled electronically
New applications and other documents, such as consent orders, can be filled out electronically through the Commonwealth Courts Portal (CCP).
To register with the CCP, you must create an individual username and password. From there, you can use those credentials to access the portal. If you are already registered with the CCP, then you can use the portal as usual.
For further advice regarding the family courts and coronavirus restrictions, contact McDonnell Schroder.