Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a marked increase in urgent Family Law cases as a direct result of the current climate, with the Courts reporting a 39% increase of cases in the Family Court of Australia and a 23% increase of cases in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia over a four week period in March and April 2020.
In direct response to this spike in urgent parenting cases, the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have jointly introduced a National COVID-19 List as of today, Wednesday 29 April 2020. You can make an application whether you are initiating proceedings or already have a matter before the Courts.
To be eligible to bring an application in the COVID-19 List, you must satisfy all of the following criteria:
- The application is filed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- The matter is urgent;
- The application is accompanied by an Affidavit, using the COVID-19 template affidavit and addressing all the relevant criteria;
- If safe to do so, you have made reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute but were unsuccessful; and
- The matter can be dealt with using electronic means (such as the telephone or Microsoft Teams).
Examples of matters that may be appropriate for the COVID-19 List include (but are not limited to):
- An increase in risk due to family violence as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed on families.
- Medical issues with someone testing positive for COVID-19 and the current parenting arrangements being unable to be fulfilled due to sickness or infection concerns.
- Border restrictions and the impact on a family with parents who live in different states and the child/ren needing to travel to fulfil the usual arrangements.
- Supervised time between a parent and the child/ren has ceased due to the closure of contact centres, and the parents are unable to agree to an alternative.
Once the application is filed, a specially designated National Registrar will consider the urgency of the matter and appropriately triage it to a National Judge. As the matters are being heard on a national basis, the application may be allocated to any registry in Australia based on demand and available judicial resources.
If the matter is deemed to meet the COVID-19 criteria, it will be given a first return date within 3 business days of being considered by the National Registrar, or less if it has been assessed as a critically urgent matter.
If the matter does not meet the criteria to be included in the COVID-19 List, it will be referred to a duty list to proceed in the ordinary manner, with the first return date within 4-6 weeks.
An important distinction to make is that the National Registrar or Judge assigned to the urgent COVID-19 application will only hear the discrete issue or put in place interim arrangements to deal with the urgent part of your matter. The remainder of your matter will then be case managed by a Judge or Registrar as appropriate.
The introduction of the National COVID-19 List is crucial in a time where parents face practical and real difficulties complying with Court Orders, or family members are at a higher risk of harm due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. As the Honourable Justice Alstergren, the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, has identified, “it is important that these urgent COVID-19 applications are closely managed on a national basis so that they can be heard as swiftly as possible given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing”.
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This is not legal advice.