COVID-19 has certainly thrown parents some ‘curve-balls’. Amongst these are an increased need for separated parents to negotiate on temporary alterations to parenting arrangements, in what might otherwise have been a settled situation. For other parents, COVID-19 has been used an excuse to stop children from spending time with their other parent, or for one parent to dominate or control a former partner.
Some of the situations that parents are trying to navigate are:
- 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.
- 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.
- Medical: The parties and/or child have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot fulfill the parenting obligations due to sickness or concerns of infection.
Of course, other situations may arise where the matter is urgent.
To deal with these issues in a timely way, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) have announced the creation of a new court list dedicated to dealing exclusively with urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The list commenced on Wednesday 29 April 2020.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren said that the new list is designed to quickly identify and deal with the cases that need urgent attention due to the COVID-19 crisis.
It is anticipated that eligible cases will be heard by a judge within 72 hours (3 days) of being assessed. The matter will be heard electronically, which means parties do not need to attend in person at Court. However, they will still need to comply with alternative dispute resolution requirements, where it is safe and appropriate to do so. The National COVID-19 Registrar may also make orders for parties to attend electronic mediation, if appropriate.
It is expected the COVID-19 list will operate until at least July.
If you need to make an urgent application to the Courts or would like to speak with one of our experienced family lawyers about how COVID-19 has impacted your parenting matter, please contact us on (07) 3252 0011.