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The COVID-19 List in the Family Courts

Written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. She also completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law in Victoria. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

The family courts have recently announced the introduction of a COVID-19 List to deal with urgent parenting issues that have resulted directly from the Coronavirus crisis. The COVID-19 List has been introduced in response to the large number of urgent parenting applications filed during March and April this year, which amounted to a 39% increase in the Family Court and a 23% increase in the Federal Circuit Court.

The COVID-19 List

On the 28 April 2020 the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court published a joint practice direction establishing procedures for the family courts to deal with urgent parenting applications that have come about as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. The practice direction establishes a fast-tracked national court list to allow the family courts to urgently deal with COVID-19 related applications.

Who is eligible?

Applications will be considered for the COVID-19 List if:

  • They have been filed as a direct result of the pandemic;
  • The matter is urgent;
  • Attempts to resolve the matter have been unsuccessful;
  • The matter can be dealt with electronically;
  • An affidavit accompanies the application addressing the following criteria:
  1. why the matter is urgent;
  2. how the dispute has arisen as a direct result of COVID-19;
  3. what risks of harm to children or parties are alleged to exist;
  4. what reasonable attempts have been made to resolve the dispute through negotiation, or why it was not safe to attempt this; and
  5. details of how it is proposed the other party can be provided with a copy of the court documents.

Where applicable, the affidavit should attach copies of any current family law orders, p, or family violence orders.

How does the COVID-19 List operate?

The COVID-19 list is overseen by the Chief Justice of the Family Court. It is administered by the National Registrars, who will consider the urgency of each application filed and may order that a matter be dealt with by electronic dispute resolution where appropriate.

Applications that are accepted into the COVID-19 List will be given a first return date (a court date where the application goes before a judge for the first time). The matter will be heard electronically on that date. The judge dealing with the CIVD-19 List will only deal with the issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and will put in place temporary orders. The remaining matters will be managed by the registrar.

Parties filing COVID-19 applications are still expected to comply with any requirements to attend dispute resolution if it is safe to do so.

Making a COVID-19 application

Applications to the COVID-19 List of the Family Court must be filed by email at COVID19List@familycourt.gov.au. Application to the COVID-19 List of the Federal Circuit Court must be made to COVID19List@federalcircuitcourt.gov.au.

Applications must be accompanied by a cover letter for urgency and an affidavit of no more than six pages. This can be signed electronically and does not need to be signed by a witness. If applying to the Federal Circuit Court, a Notice of Risk should be included. If applying to the Family Court, a Notice of Child Abuse should be included.

A person making an application should copy the other party/ies into the email unless it is unsafe to do so.

Why the COVID-19 List?

The COVID-19 crisis, the closure of organisations and businesses and the implementation of social distancing measures has made of lot of existing parenting orders and parenting plans impossible to comply with. This may be because parents were required to have contact with children in a contact centre that is currently closed. It may be because the other parent lives interstate so sharing care of children is no longer possible due to closed borders. Difficulties with existing orders may also arise because a parent or a child has tested positive for COVID-19 or because a family violence situation has arisen or escalated due to the restrictions.

Responses to the announcement

Women’s Safety and Domestic Violence workers have welcomed the announcement, saying that high risk domestic violence situations have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lock down measures and that the fast-tracking of applications in such cases would save lives.

The COVID-19 List is initially to operate for three months, but this will be reassessed at a later date.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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