Recently, the South Australian government released the Roadmap for Easing COVID-19 restrictions with Step 1 of the 3-step process commencing on Monday 11 May 2020.
Over the coming weeks and months, South Australia is likely to see a slow transition back to ‘normal’ life.
In an earlier blog we addressed issues that some families are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 situation.
In regard to the practice of family law by our firm during the pandemic, it has mostly been business as usual with slight changes including some of our staff working remotely, some restrictions around face to face interviews and attendances at court. With the easing of restrictions, there will now be changes to how we handle your family law matter.
With the government now easing restrictions, what does that mean for your family law matter?
Attendances at Court
For the foreseeable future, the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia will likely continue to utilise telephone and video link mechanisms to conduct court hearings and conferences or mediations.
In our experience so far, you, your solicitor and/or barrister, the Judge and the other party can be present via telephone or video during the hearing, conference or mediation. The Court hearings have been running procedurally the same as they always have, just now in a virtual court room instead of a physical one, with each matter being called on according to the Court’s priority or at the scheduled time given to the matter.
Opening of Children’s Contact Centres
During the pandemic, most Children’s Contact Centres in the state acted to restrict their services or stopped offering the usual supervised visits or handover services provided by their centre.
As from 2 May 2020, Relationships Australia, which offers the majority of supervised visits and handover services in the state, resumed their services for supervised contact visits. This resumption is still with some restrictions including visits being shorter in length, timing of visits being staggered and strict social distancing and hygiene protocols still being followed.
Relationships Australia has indicated they will still be accepting new applications for supervised visits or handover services but they are unable to predict how long waiting times for intake sessions will be.
If you have an order from a court which allows for supervised time for you with your child or for the other parent with your child and this was affected during the pandemic because of contact centre closures, it is important that you now seek legal advice as to the resumption of this time spending and compliance with the court order.
Following Court Orders
The Court is continuing to encourage parties to follow their court orders or to try and come to an agreement with the other party if the orders cannot be followed for any reason.
Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution are still being facilitated through telephone and are available to parties to access to try to come to an agreement without court intervention.
If you think that you are not able to follow your orders because of COVID-19 and you are unable to come to an agreement with the other party, it is important that you seek family law advice regarding your orders and potential penalties for breaching orders before you take any action. This includes orders for both children’s matters and property matters.
It is possible to file an application with the court and gain access to special COVID-19 Court Lists to seek a change in your arrangements or orders if that application is urgent and if you cannot comply with orders or if you are being refused time with your child due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 Court Lists
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have commenced a new specialised court list to triage urgent family law matters that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The list commenced on 29 April 2020.
Some of the matters the Court will deem to be urgent are cases such as:
- Where border restrictions are preventing contact between a parent and child;
- The other party or child have tested positive for COVID-19 and it affects a party’s parenting obligations because of sickness or concerns of infection;
- In matters of family violence where COVID-19 has caused an urgent risk to the safety of the children and needs to be dealt with.
If the matter is suitable for the COVID-19 list, your matter will be listed in court within three business days, or less if it is considered critically urgent.
There are special criteria and forms that need to be filled out to apply for and be eligible for the COVID-19 list. You should seek urgent family law advice if you think that you need to make an application to court under this list.
Urgent property matters
If there is a risk that your former partner or spouse will waste, dispose of or sell property before you are able to finalise a property settlement, there are actions you can take to protect your entitlement to those assets.
The Court is still hearing urgent property matters, including hearings to protect money from the proceeds of sale of real property or funds in bank accounts. With the real estate market slowly picking back up, it is important that you get advice on protecting the proceeds of sale where a property is sold and you are not listed as an owner on the title of the property. You may need to make an urgent application to court to protect the funds in these circumstances.
Your family law matter involving care arrangements for children or property settlement and financial issues can still be progressed despite the difficulties caused by COVID-19 and restrictions relating to that virus.