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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

· Family report interviews

Domestic Violence ADVO Adjustments:

With those who may be experiencing domestic violence now being restricted to their homes for long periods of time, the expectation that these cases are rising is prominent.

In response to this expectation, provisional Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs) made out by Senior Police will now stay in place for up to six months from the date the order was made.

Along with this extension, from April 1st 2020, ADVO court hearings have also been changed.

Any ADVO hearings that were listed on or before May 1st 2020 will now not proceed, and no new hearings will be listed either. Furthermore, the criminal charge and criminal ADVO will be listed on the same court date and will not be within the next three months. Finally, any ADVO's not related to criminal charges will now not be given a court date within the next three months.

How Voice Lawyers Can Help With These Issues During This Crisis:

Voice Lawyers can offer support and assistance during this overwhelming time by:

● drafting consent orders or property settlement orders

● mediating or negotiating disputes

● documenting updated arrangements.

At Voice Lawyers, we have always been set up to be as efficient as possible, which has included using video conferencing to appointments, shared drives to collaborating on documents. Hence, we were already well placed to manage the new restrictions of COVID. All our meetings are now by video conference and electronic ID to verify all new client identity.

Voice Lawyers are here to offer time and cost-effective mediation. We provide the support to reduce the strain on the court system during this crisis and enable parties to engage and respond to their matters quickly.

Find out more about Voice Lawyers’ conferencing appointment options here

Alternatively, you can contact our office via this number (02) 9261 1954.

Find Out More Information Here:

● The Family Relationships Advice Line can be contacted on 1800 050 321 or visit the website;

● If you are in immediate danger 000 or if you are unsure if your relationships I DV 1800 RESPECT

● The varying of parenting arrangements through parenting orders and consent order applications can be filed electronically with the Court, and does not require a hearing; and

● Voice Lawyers can assist you with Family Law legal and mediating processes which can be held electronically during COVID-19 restrictions.

Contact us for more information on (02) 9261 1954.

If you are interested in reading about Financial Disclosure in Family Law check out our article here.

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