Has COVID-19 had an impact on your Family & Relationship Law matter?

Are you unsure whether COVID-19 will affect your financial or property matter? Are border closures impacting your parenting and care arrangements? Do you need assistance with changes to child support or spousal maintenance payments?

Family law can be complex and emotionally turbulent, especially during a pandemic. Our family & relationship law specialists provide insight and analysis to help you navigate family-related legal issues during this challenging time.

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COVID-19 Q&A: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

These are unprecedented times, and COVID-19 poses challenging legal situations for many businesses and families.

We provide guidance for COVID-19 queries and give key contact details should you require further legal support.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted my family situation and I need urgent legal assistance. How quickly will the Courts assist me?

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia have created a specific list for matters which are filed as a direct result of COVID-19, or have a significant connection to COVID-19. The list is called the COVID-19 List and as of 15 January 2021, the List has been expanded to deal with more matters. The List operates virtually across Australia which allows matters relating to COVID-19 to be dealt with urgently. Before you file a matter with the Court, you must make reasonable attempts to resolve the issue between yourselves or with the assistance of lawyers.

If your matter is accepted into the COVID-19 list and is deemed to be urgent, it will be given a date within 3 business days.

My former partner and I do not agree on whether our children should receive the COVID-19 vaccination. How do we navigate this issue?

If you have been unable to resolve the issue between yourselves (and with the help of lawyers, if necessary), you can seek that a Judge in the COVID-19 List make a decision about vaccinations for your children.

My matter is already in Court, but an issue related to COVID-19 has come up. How will this be dealt with?

The discrete COVID-19 issue can he heard in the COVID-19 List, while the rest of your matter will continue to be managed by the usual Judge or Registrar.

My financial situation has been impacted by COVID-19. Will the Court consider this in relation to my Binding Child Support Agreement?

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can be described as "exceptional circumstances" for the purpose of setting aside a Binding Child Support Agreement, according to the Deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court in his decision of Martyn & Martyn [2020] CamCA 526. Read more.

Are the Courts still open?

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are open but operating with modifications. Most hearings are being conducted via telephone or video-conferencing (e.g. Zoom or Microsoft Teams).

Parties with existing court proceedings will be notified whether the event has been adjourned or will go ahead electronically. Applications for supervised contact, border restrictions, medical and family violence issues can be made as an urgent COVID-19 application.

Are the Courts experiencing longer delays due to COVID-19?

Yes. The Courts are operating at a reduced pace and reserving resources for the most urgent cases. Conducting court events electronically helps to manage the strain on courts. Disputes about financial matters can be arbitrated to combat court delays.

Does COVID-19 affect parenting orders?

Parenting orders are binding on both parties, irrespective of COVID-19. A parent who breaches a parenting order, relying on COVID-19 as an excuse, may find themselves facing a contravention application and other serious consequences.

If there is a reasonable excuse for not being able to comply with parenting orders, it is suggested that parties, if it is safe to do so, communicate with one another to reach a practical solution. Any agreement reached should be in writing (e.g. email or text message). If an agreement is unable to be reached, you should seek advice.

I share the care of my children with my former partner who lives interstate. Am I able to travel to another state even if the borders are closed?

The Courts are working with state and territory authorities to introduce exemptions in relation to movement, which will enable you to adhere to court orders and cross borders where it is safe to do so. The Courts advise that you seek advice from the relevant state or territory authority about how the border restrictions may impact you and your circumstances before crossing any borders.

How does COVID-19 affect my property settlement matter?

Valuations conducted during this time may have a positive or negative impact on the total value of your property pool. Further negotiations may be required to ensure that you get the best outcome possible.

Could COVID-19 affect my child support payments?

If the income of the paying party has been reduced, the amount of child support to be paid may be affected. Further negotiations between the parties to agree on an adjusted amount may be required. If a Binding Child Support Agreement exists, you should seek legal advice to see how it may or may not apply.

Could COVID-19 affect my spousal maintenance payments?

If the income of the paying party has been reduced, the amount of spousal maintenance required to be paid may be affected. Further negotiations between the parties to agree on an adjusted amount may be required.

Can I sign documents and affidavits electronically?

Documents such as financial statements, consent orders and affidavits may be signed electronically. If you’re unsure whether a particular document can be signed electronically or witnessed remotely, seek advice.

I’m feeling stressed and anxious about COVID-19 and the effect that it has on my family law matter. What services are available to help me?

We encourage you to seek support to help deal with stress and anxiety. Many psychologists and counsellors are continuing to see patients through this period. You can obtain a mental health care plan from your GP, which will allow you to obtain a Medicare rebate for sessions with a clinical psychologist. We also have a helpful list of articles and support organisations, including guidance on how to speak to your children about COVID-19. See here.

Our team is actively monitoring and considering the implications of legal and regulatory developments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find our COVID-19 collection here.

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