The Government has recently responded to widespread fears that social restrictions could spark an increase in family violence. A new “COVID-19 List” has been introduced which will see urgent parenting matters heard by the court within 72 hours of filing. Such a measure has been implemented in order to prioritise those matters involving family violence and/or risks to children.

There has been mounting concern over the recent need for the courts to hear certain matters on a urgent basis. Court statistics currently indicate marked increases in applications filed in the already overcrowded court system. It has been reported that during March and April 2020, the Family Court of Australia has had a 39% increase in urgent applications and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia has had a 23% increase.

Launched on 29 April 2020, the ‘COVID-19 List’ will include, but will not be limited to, types of matters which involve the following:

  • Medical issues in the current pandemic and their impact on parenting arrangements;
  • Allegations of family violence;
  • Border restrictions and the impact on parties who live interstate where a child/ren is ordinarily required to move between States to spend time with either of their parents;
  • Supervised time between a parent and a child which cannot continue as a result of supervised contact centres not being able to carry out supervision in the current pandemic and parties failing to agree to alternative options.

In a recent media statement, Chief justice Alstergren said the following in relation to the COVID-19 List:

“Applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the COVID-19 list, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention and will be triaged by a dedicated registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge within 72 hours of being assessed”

The urgent matters will proceed by way of electronic means. This will include filing via email, conducting Court listings by way of telephone and Hearings taking place via Microsoft Teams software.  

If your parenting arrangements have been or are going to be affected by COVID-19 we recommend you get legal advice to explore your options. Anyone involved in a parenting dispute should remember to always keep the children’s best interests as their paramount consideration, especially during these uncertain times.

Apart from going to court you may be able to mediate an agreement with the other parent. During COVID-19, online and telephone dispute resolution is being offered by Family Law dispute practitioners.

If you are currently experiencing difficulties with parenting matters in the current COVID–19 climate, then you should contact one of our lawyers to find out if your matter is one that could be filed in the new COVID-19 list.

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