The Family Law Courts (encompassing both the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) have adopted a number of practices to ensure that the Courts can continue to function while the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) restrictions are in place. These measures aim to ensure that the Court can continue to effectively resolve Family Law disputes in a manner that protects the health and safety of Court staff and users.
The first step undertaken by the Court is to list hearings remotely. Essentially, this means that, rather than being present in a Court room before a Judge, people and their lawyers have been attending certain hearings remotely via telephone calls or video-conferencing. More recently, the Court has resumed listing more “face to face” hearings. Such hearings are currently subject to strict procedures limiting people’s interactions in the Court room. To further reduce risk, the Court is staggering listings across the day to reduce the number of people in Court at any given time. Like most workplaces, cleaning efforts are in place to prevent exposure.
Secondly, in March 2020, the Honourable Bill Alstergren Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court took the unusual step of providing a media statement regarding the Court’s expectations of parents as they deal with parenting issues impacted by Covid-19. That statement, which is available online via the Court’s website, made it clear that the Court expects parents to:-
- act in their children’s best interests;
- comply with existing Court Orders where possible; and
- if it is not possible for parents to comply with existing Court Orders (such as when existing Orders require children to transition between parents at school but schools were teaching remotely), the parties should communicate with one another and attempt to find a practical solution to the difficulties.
Finally, the Court also established a Covid-19 List to promptly deal with parenting disputes that are a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The list is restricted to urgent parenting matters and requires certain conditions to be met. An example of a matter that might be dealt with by this list is where one parent is refusing to allow children to spend time with the other parent on the basis of their concerns about that parent’s exposure to COVID-19 in their workplace and a transition to the children.
Most family lawyers and related professions have also adopted health and safety-focused measures to protect their clients and staff. It has been commonplace throughout most of 2020 for appointments between lawyers and clients to take place by telephone or video-conferencing. Where possible, mediations are taking place remotely. At Berry Family Law, we look forward to working safely with our clients, the Court and other professionals to achieve lasting resolutions to Family Law issues.