How will COVID-19 affect my upcoming Family Court matter?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have implemented special measures with respect to family law matters. There have been many significant changes to the daily practice of the courts to ensure that they are able to continue to provide this essential service to litigants.

You can expect that your court matter will proceed in a less traditional fashion through the use of technologies while the courts aim to keep everyone safe in these challenging times. Rest assured that the Courts are working hard to monitor the situation in order to continue to operate.

Microsoft Teams and telephone hearings

With the current lockdown-type climate, many clients have asked us if they are required to attend their court event in person. To put it simply, it is highly unlikely given the government-mandated need to reduce the in-person interaction we have on a daily basis. The courts have made dramatic changes to their use of technology, which enables their staff, legal practitioners and parties to attend hearings by telephone.

All hearings are to be heard by either telephone or videoconference, where possible. The courts are encouraging the use of Microsoft Teams, a videoconferencing platform, in some cases.

Child Dispute Services are also adopting these technologies with family consultants able to facilitate interviews with adults by telephone or video. Where it is deemed critical and urgent, family consultants may still determine that a child is needed to partake in a face-to-face interview in accordance with the Child Dispute Services in-person interview protocol.

Any matter currently listed with the courts will proceed as scheduled by electronic means, where possible. If your previous court event was vacated due to technical difficulties while the new procedures and these platforms were established, you can expect to have your matter heard at the earliest opportunity – the court has expressed its commitment to hear all such matters which were previously vacated with some priority.

The courts have found these new technological measures to be a positive step forward. In future, Judges will be equipped to hear cases through Microsoft Teams from any court registry, or remotely. This also provides a safe and less stressful forum for vulnerable parties to attend hearings – a welcome positive outcome of the current circumstances.

You can find further information on the use of Microsoft Teams at the courts’ websites.

Face-to-face-in-court protocol

A very small number of in-person hearings will be allowed to take place in exceptional circumstances upon application to the court. The courts will take into account the risks and benefits to the face-to-face attendance and, in such circumstances, attendances will take place in accordance with the courts’ face-to-face-in-court protocol.

Parenting orders in the current climate

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia has urged parents to act in the best interests of their children and respect the spirit of co-parenting orders where strict compliance is difficult or impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information from the Family Court of Australia can be found here.

Other special measures

The use of online services is highly encouraged at this time for filing of applications and court documents. For the time being, parties are permitted to sign documents electronically in lieu of physically signing documents such as Affidavits, Financial Statements and Consent Orders. You may be required at a later date to swear or affirm that the document and its contents are accurate.

If you are a self-represented litigant, you should contact the registry by telephone to seek assistance if you are unsure how to use the courts’ online services.

Registry staff are currently working remotely and, as such, may not have the ability to process fee payments. The courts are able to defer fee payments until a later date.

Going forward

The courts are continuing to monitor the situation at this time and have sought to reassure the public and the profession that they will continue to operate at the highest possible capacity.

If you have any concerns about your current situation or have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact your solicitor here at Ryan & Seton Lawyers or refer to the courts’ websites for further information.

The above is not intended as legal advice. You should obtain legal advice in relation to your own specific circumstances.

Article by Tayla Mayer

Legal Secretary

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