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Family Law Courts’ Response to Surge in Urgent Cases due to COVID-19

The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have released a media statement advising that on 29 April 2020 they will be launching a ‘COVID-19 List’ to deal with urgent parenting disputes.

This list will be devoted to deal exclusively with urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This announcement comes following the increase in the number of urgent applications filed in the Courts over a four week period in March and April 2020, with a 39 per cent increase in the Family Court of Australia and a 23 per cent increase in the Federal Circuit Court.

Doolan Callaghan Family Lawyers have noticed an increase in enquiries from parents about difficulties that have arisen or become more exacerbated as a result of COVID-19. In nearly all cases, trying to reach an agreement to resolve any difficulties should be the first step. We can help you do this. If the Court’s involvement is necessary however, our experience in the Court system will help you achieve the best possible outcome.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Honourable Will Alstergren, said the COVID-19 List is designed to quickly recognise and handle the cases that need urgent attention due to the COVID-19 crisis. The new list will also support the work already being conducted by the judges.

Chief Justice Alstergren said:

Applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the COVID-19 List, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention and will be triaged by a dedicated Registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of being assessed.

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.

I would also like the public to know that if they need to file an urgent application because they have been directly impacted by COVID-19, it will be heard electronically as quickly as possible by a Judge from any Registry of the Courts.

Court staff and judges are working tirelessly to ensure that work can continue and Australian families are supported. The COVID-19 List is another example of the Courts responding to the needs of the community during these difficult and stressful times.

The Courts have provided the following examples of applications that may be suitable for filing in the COVID-19 List:

  • Family violence – there has been an increase in risk due to family violence resulting from the restrictions imposed on families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Supervised contact – the current parenting arrangements involve supervised contact, and the contact centre is closed or the supervisor is unable to perform their role, and the parties cannot agree on an alternative arrangement.
  • Border restrictions – the parties live in different States or Territories and the child cannot travel between the parties’ residences due to border restrictions.
  • Medical – the parties and/or child have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot fulfil the parenting obligations due to sickness or concerns of infection.

To expedite urgent application and provide convenience to the parties, electronic means can be used. The COVID-19 list is initially for three months but will be assessed.

Doolan Callaghan Family Lawyers will be able to assist you with filing an urgent application in the COVID-19 List from 29 April 2020. Being a specialist family law firm, our family lawyers have expertise in dealing with parenting matters and the court system. We are well aware of the challenges being faced, particularly due to COVID-19, by many families.

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