COVID-19 – Surge in Urgent Family Law Cases

The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) are establishing a court list dedicated to deal exclusively with urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The list will commence on 29 April 2020.

There has been a surge of urgent family law cases involving disputes over children since the Covid 19 pandemic became a latent problem in Australia. There is more evidence of domestic violence cases and cases with problems about compliance with existing orders about access of parents to children.

The Courts have been inundated with urgent cases. Some parents argue that the other parent is not adopting safe measures when spending time with their children, in some cases, children must travel interstate to spend time with a parent but each state has different restrictions and obligations regarding state travel.

In a recent case involving our firm’s client, the Court ceased, temporarily, all face to face time with a parent as the visitations require interstate travel.

Some weeks ago, in a media release from the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, entitled Statement from the Hon Will Alstergren – Parenting Orders and COVID-19, His Honour noted that:

“   In the highly unusual circumstances now faced by Australian parents and carers, there may be situations that arise that make strict compliance with current court orders very difficult, if not, impossible….

It is imperative that parents and carers act in the best interests of their children. This includes ensuring their children’s safety and wellbeing.

Parents were encouraged by His Honour to “communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current orders and attempt to find a practical solution”. They were also encouraged to engage electronic mediation services to assist them to negotiate a solution to these difficulties. These should be considered sensibly and reasonably.

Urgent applications to the Family Court have surged by almost 40 per cent since the coronavirus pandemic hit, as families crumble under the pressures of social isolation, financial stress and family abuse.

In response to the surge of new urgent cases, the Courts will launch a new COVID-19 list of cases caused or aggravated by the pandemic.

Urgent cases will be “triaged” by a registrar and heard by a judge within 72 hours.