COVID-19 – conduct of family law matters


Posted By on 22/03/20 at 12:40 PM

We are in unprecedented times. With the threat of COVID-19 and pending enforced isolation for many of us, we have to think of the unthinkable.

For lawyers working in family law, it is and must be “business as usual”. Our client’s needs do not disappear or dissipate because of the current circumstances, and in fact they may become increasingly urgent. I hold significant concerns for the many individuals who are trying to navigate impending separation from their partners, in circumstances of family violence and with the increasing pressure of financial and health concerns caused by the COVID-19.

Operation of the courts

Court hearings in family law, will for now, continue, save that the Court is imposing stricter requirements on court attendances. Due to the nature of family law work, including child related and family violence aspects, urgent and priority trials and contested hearings will remain listed and will be conducted in the safest manner possible. However, non-urgent property only trials may be adjourned for an appropriate period of time, and non-urgent parenting trials will be given similar consideration but this is at the discretion of the Judge. Trials or hearings that can appropriately be done by telephone will be.

The court will now be capping the number of people in each courtroom, and any trials or hearings that can be done by telephone should be.

If you need family law assistance, our team will work remotely throughout any enforced isolation period, and can offer meetings via telephone or ZOOM conferencing. Contact us on (03) 9663 9877, or by emailing mblizzard@khq.com.au, goliver@khq.com.au or adminfamily@khq.com.au.

For litigants in the Court system, or those with final parenting orders, they must now consider whether their children may be at risk in proceeding with those arrangements. The existence of COVID-19 does not of itself give rise to a “reasonable excuse” to contravene those arrangements. However, if a parent is unwell, or has come into contact with someone who has the virus, (and may be in isolation), then circumstances may require a temporary suspension of those arrangements. In those circumstances appropriate medical advice should be obtained and, if possible, confirmed in writing.

Parenting arrangements 

Parenting arrangements may otherwise continue in the terms of any orders/parenting plans, notwithstanding that the children may no longer be attending school, daycare or kindergarten. However greater communication and monitoring of the parties’ and the children’s health, will be required. It is up to the parties whether this should then be treated in a similar fashion to school holiday periods or not, and may depend on whether parents are able to work from home, or continue to have ongoing or increased employment obligations, such as in the case of health care workers.

There may need to be consideration as to whether a change of location for changeover for parenting arrangements is required to ensure these do not take place in a public space, in the event of an enforced lock down.

It is unknown whether parties requiring supervision of parenting arrangements will be able to continue given that this will often involve family members, whose health may be at risk. It is also not known whether professional supervisors will continue to work during any enforced isolation periods.

What is apparent is that we may all need to be flexible and adaptable, depending on how circumstances may change.

We’re here to help

As mentioned above, our team will be working remotely throughout any enforced isolation period, and will be able meet with you via telephone or ZOOM conferencing. We can be contacted on (03) 9663 9877, or by emailing mblizzard@khq.com.au, goliver@khq.com.au or adminfamily@khq.com.au. In the meantime, stay safe!

 

Monica Blizzard

Monica Blizzard Director

Monica Blizzard is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with the Law Institute of Victoria, a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer, and has 20 years experience working in family law.

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