While Australia now appears to be through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and some aspects of society prepare to return to normal routines, Australia’s court system continues to operate under special procedures designed to maximise social distancing for public health safety.
The Family Court of Australia moved quickly to implement new ways of continuing to conduct its business during the course of the emergency, a particularly important step given the importance of its daily work on the direct health and welfare of many people experiencing family separation and breakdown. Urgent applications filed in the Courts over a four week period in March and April of 2020 saw a 39 per cent increase in the Family Court of Australia and a 23 per cent increase in the Federal Circuit Court.
Since April 29, 2020 (and remaining in force until superseded or revoked), urgent family law applications filed in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (‘the Courts’) as a direct result of the impact of coronavirus were added to a national list – ‘the COVID-19 List’ – in each Court to enable the matters to be swiftly dealt with. The List will operate for three months and then be re-assessed.
Some of the matters that might justify appearing on the list as urgent include:
- Supervised contact, including where this occurs under current parenting arrangements and COVID-19 has made the performance of the obligation difficult or impossible, 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.
- Family violence: There has been an increase in the risk of family violence resulting from the restrictions imposed on families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the criteria for making the COVID-19 List?
For an application to appear on the List for action by the Courts, it must meet the following criteria:
- The application has been filed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- the matter is urgent;
- the application is accompanied by an Affidavit that addresses the following criteria – that 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.
How does the COVID-19 List operate once an application is filed?
Once filed, applications will be assessed by National Registrars as to their urgency and then triaged to Judges in each Court who have been assigned to the COVID-19 List. At this stage, the National Registrar will consider whether the matter is suitable for an urgent electronic mediation or conciliation and may make orders to facilitate this.
The COVID-19 List will operate electronically, meaning that the application may be heard by a Judge from any Registry.
Applications that are accepted are given a first return date before a National Registrar or a Judge within three business days of being considered by the National Registrar, or less if assessed as ‘critically urgent’.
Applications that do not make the COVID-19 List will be added to a duty list or referred for hearing in the ordinary course.
Where a family law matter involves significant risk to the parties and/or the children, it will be referred directly to a Judge by the National Registrar. That Judge will only hear this specific COVID-19 List matter and address the urgency of it by putting interim arrangements in place. The remainder of the matter will be case managed by the docket Judge or a Registrar as appropriate.
“Court staff and judges are working tirelessly to ensure that work can continue and Australian families are supported,” Family Court Chief Justice Will Alstergren said of the Courts’ response to the pandemic. “The COVID-19 List is another example of the Courts responding to the needs of the community during these difficult and stressful times.”
We can help you
If you have an urgent family law matter and need to make an application to the Courts, it’s odds that you are busy dealing with all of the many issues involved in raising children and ensuring the safety of loved ones at this worrying time.
Big Law can help take the burden off you. We are specialists in all family law matters, in particular, urgent applications to the Courts when any of the situations described in this article arise. We will make sure your matter is dealt with as fast and as sensitively as possible. Contact our Strathpine family lawyers by phone at 07 3112 7998 or email [email protected] to schedule an initial appointment today.