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Family Law & COVID-19: How It's Changed & What You Need To Know

We are living in unprecedented times. With a rise in Family Law and domestic violence cases as our out of home movements and activities become more restricted and strain on our mental and economic well-being increases, understanding the changes being made in Australia to support those most vulnerable is vital.

Whether it be issues about who the children spend time with and when, divorce, property division or domestic violence, these are all stressful situations and whether there are lockdown laws or not, these issues continue to need resolution. However, the current lockdown laws could be contributing to the silencing of those most vulnerable and be opening up dangerous opportunities for offenders. In response to this, there have been multiple adjustments made to both the Family Law system to enable Court proceedings to continue virtually and to Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVO).

The following article will cover changes to Family Law and domestic violence proceedings in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Providing you with the information you need to know.

Do I have to stick with my current orders?

Regardless of social distancing rules, it is still expected that parents and carers adhere to Court orders relating to their parenting arrangements and time facilitation.

However, while handovers and strict compliance to court orders may be strained during this time, as anxiety and genuine concerns may arise, the expectation is to facilitate the spirit of the orders and maintain time spent with each parent in the usual way. If alternate arrangements are needed, they will need to be agreed upon and put into writing. Any changes ought to remain practical, sensible, reasonable and in the best interest of the child and concerns of the other party; as all agreements always should be.

What if we can’t agree?

If practical and compliant agreements cannot be met, causing parental concern, Courts can still be approached electronically during this time. In the interim though, parties must ensure that the purpose or spirit of the orders is respected when considering alternative arrangements.

The courts are still open and operating; however, the parameters of their operation have changed considerably. Excluding the Judge and Court staff, courtrooms now have a maximum limit of eight people to respect social distancing rules and minimise the spread of the virus. Also, directions hearings, mentions, property lists, contravention lists and sole divorce applications where the children involved are under the age of 18 now only require attendance via telephone or by an audiovisual link-up system with the parties appearing from their own homes for the foreseeable future.

All of the following proceedings will now be conducted via telephone or video communications:

· Conciliation conferences

· Case Assessment Conferences

· Child Dispute Conferences

· Child Inclusive Conferences

· Child Responsive Programs

· Alternative dispute resolution events; and