The impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on people by the Federal and State Governments has had an impact on how the Family Law System operates.

Operation of Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court continue to operate and conduct business.

  1. All Court attendances, unless otherwise notified by the Court, will be by telephone. The Courts will run a virtual courtroom where all parties and legal representatives will call a telephone number notified by the Court and your Court appearance will be conducted as if you were in Court in person. If you are legally represented your solicitor will provide you information about your Court appearance, otherwise you will be contacted by the Court. Court etiquette remains in place, for example, if you are legally represented you should keep your phone on mute and only speak if you are asked a direct question by the Judge, your solicitor will speak on your behalf at all other times.
  2. In the circumstances, the Court orders that the parties conduct a hearing in person then there is a 8 person in-court cap. This means that the number of people permitted to attend a courtroom at any one time (other than the Judge and their support staff) is limited to 8 people. The 8 people in the courtroom must comply with social distancing requirements and the Court has provided a guide to where people must sit. The Court will adjourn every 1.5 hours to allow the Court to be cleaned.
  3. The Courts are trialling conducting hearings by way of video conferencing (i.e Microsoft Teams). These hearings are taking place as directed by the Court and you will either be notified by your solicitor or the Court if your hearing will be conducted in this way.
  4. The Registry is closed to face-to-face services other than urgent matters after initial assistance by telephone. Parties should contact the Court before they seek to attend the Court registry for assistance and should only attend if directed to do so by Registry Staff.
  5. All interviews for Family Reports, Child Dispute Conferences and other reports are to be conducted remotely by the Court. If you have been allocated a date for the preparation of such report that requires attendance in person, then you will be conducted by your solicitor or the Court about the change in arrangements

This provides a short summary of the changes to the operation of the Courts at the present time. As you would understand, the Court may make further changes to it’s operation and you should either speak to your solicitor or contact Adams & Partners Lawyers to make an appointment with a family law solicitor to obtain advice.

Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Parenting Orders

The NSW Government has enacted the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 on 30 March 2020.

This Order is relevant for the operation of parenting Orders as it puts in place the legislative enforcement of the Federal Government’s most recent advice on restrictions.

  1. A person must not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than 2 persons

A gathering necessary to fulfil a legal obligation is an exemption to this restriction.

For example:

  • If you are required to attend Court by way of telephone or video conferencing and you do not have the capacity to do this from home, then you can attend your solicitors office or another location for the purpose of attending Court.
  • If you are required to attend Court in person, then you are exempt from this restruction to allow you to attend Court.
  1. Reasonable Excuses

The NSW Government has set out a list of reasonable excuses to not comply with the restrictions and importantly it has been stated that a reasonable excuse is:

For children who do not live in the same household as their parents and siblings or one of their parents or siblings – continuing existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children or siblings

Your current parenting arrangements by either, Court Order, Parenting Plan, written agreement or verbal agreement are still to be complied with. It is a reasonable excuse to the restrictions to facilitate changeover and for children to spend time with each of their parents in different households.

Parents may have other concerns related to COVID-19 that may lead to a discussion as to the change of parenting arrangements, such as:

  • Interstate travel to spend time with a parent where the State or Territory the child is travelling to requires the child to self-isolate for 14 days
  • One of the parents living in a household, that would lead the child to having a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the lifestyle, work commitments and travel of one of the parents

Parents need to agree to any changes on a case to case basis and seek legal advice in relation to whether they should comply or not with Court Orders and parenting arrangements.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, The Hon William Alstergren has issued a statement in relation to Parenting Orders and COVID-19 9 (Link here: link http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/cf669b27-5830-4aec-8dae-d00ff72556cd/mr260320.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-cf669b27-5830-4aec-8dae-d00ff72556cd-n4kzRGy)

If you are concerned in relation to whether you should comply with current Court Orders and/or arrangements for children please contact Adams & Partners Lawyers to make an appointment with our family law solicitors, Steven Ng and Lauren Hitchen.

Written by Steven Ng.

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