Family Law: What can I do when COVID-19 has affected my parenting arrangements?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our day to day life, our professional life, our social life and our family life. However, for some separated families the impact of COVID-19 on parenting arrangements has caused an extra level of stress for, not only the parents, but also the children.
In all parenting matters, it is important to be child focused and try and reach a positive outcome as quickly as possible. Negotiation and mediation are always the preferred options however, sometimes the intervention of the Court is required.
In order to meet these unusual and unique parenting issues arising from the Family Court System has created a special COVID-19 Court List. This List is designed to deal exclusively with urgent family law disputes that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How is this COVID-19 Court List different from the usual court process?
This list only relates to parenting matters that must have arisen as a direct result of the COVID‑19 pandemic (e.g. where children are interstate and due to restrictions are unable to see the parents and trying to agree about arrangements have failed).
The matter must also be urgent. You will have to explain to the Court what your particular circumstances around urgency are.
Does the COVID-19 Court List use the same court documents as for an ordinary parenting matter?
Yes, largely the documents are the same however, your affidavit needs to follow a certain COVID-19 template and deal with specific criteria including, urgency, the direct result of COVID-19, risk to the children, attempts to resolve the matter and service of the Court documents on the other party.
Is the Court filing fee cost in the COVID-19 Court List the same as an ordinary parenting matter?
Yes, the costs to pay the Court for filing your matter are the same. Depending on what kind of orders you are asking for, the costs can vary from $360 to $485 (depending on if you are asking for interim and / or final orders); there are certain exemptions for payment of those fees.
What are the benefits of filing in the COVID-19 Court List?
Your matter will be assessed promptly to decide if it meets the criteria for the COVID-19 Court List and if it does, you will receive a first court date within 3 business days of your application being assessed by the Court.
If your application does not meet the criteria for the COVID-19 Court List, then the matter will be transferred to your nearest Court Registry to be allocated a date, which maybe 4 to 6 weeks from the date of filing. By way of example: if you file your court documents on 1 September 2020 asking for the matter to be heard in the COVID-19 Court List, and if it meets the COVID-19 Court List criteria it can then be heard on 4 September 2020. If it does not meet the criteria, then it might be heard on 22 September 2020 – 6 October 2020 in your local Court Registry (e.g. Brisbane or Sydney).
Generally, all hearings continue to be a virtual court hearing by telephone or other electronic means (e.g. Microsoft Teams).
Do I need a lawyer?
As with all Family Court matters, you do not have to have a lawyer however, given the often complex nature of parenting matters, it is recommended to get legal advice. Our office has recently conducted a matter on the COVID-19 list which was heard by way of Microsoft Teams. Our office is set up with the latest technology to enable our clients and their support people to attend at the office, practising social distancing requirements and be present for the hearing.
If you have a parenting or family law matter which is affected by COVID-19 and you want more information about this process, here is a link to the Court website. Otherwise, please feel free to contact one of our family lawyers on (07) 5591 5099 who are assisting parties in dealing with parenting matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Author: Joelene Nel
Director: Sophie Pearson
Date: 13 August 2020