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How COVID-19 is impacting family law and separating couples

26 March 2020
brendan herbert kate barlow
Read Time 3 mins reading time

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve and impact upon all of us more each day, it adds another dimension to separating couples already experiencing one of life’s most challenging events.

We are seeing many people trying to solve similar problems and are seeing what is working and what isn’t. In these uncertain times, we want to pass on the best of these ideas to you and update you on very recent changes affecting family law clients, including courts, parenting arrangements, property settlements, family violence and other issues.

family law courts

The Federal Government are committed to the Family Law Courts remaining open at this time, with practical changes being made to administer justice and accommodate health and safety requirements imposed by the Government. Efforts include using telephone technology for all procedural, interim hearings and Divorce hearings that can be conducted this way.

Video technology is being used for conferences including Child Inclusive Conferences, Family Report interviews and Alternative Dispute Resolution. For those matters where attendance at court is considered necessary, then the court is staggering start times throughout the day and allowing no more than eight people in the court room at once. Some matters considered non-urgent may be delayed at the discretion of the presiding Judge. Rules around the swearing of Affidavits are temporarily relaxed.

We are keeping abreast of the rapidly changing procedures and notices issued by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

As usual, we continue to use Court as a last resort. We continue to resolve disputes through negotiation, mediation and family dispute resolution.

family violence and the magistrates court

All Victorian Magistrates Courts remain open. With greater uncertainty, economic pressures and with couples spending more time together with more restrictions and less routine, it is anticipated and police are braced for an increase in reports of Family Violence.

Courts are prioritising new Applications and are delaying interim hearings. These changes will have significant impacts on both Applicants and Respondents, including some Respondents being prohibited from entering their usual home and contacting or being near family members named in orders.  Existing orders remain in full force and effect.

existing parenting orders

Family Law Act orders remain in full force and effect. Challenges are arising for parents due to school holidays starting early, as well as schools probably not returning to normal in two weeks’ time.

Alternative teaching (such as home-schooling) is likely to be the new normal for at least the short-medium term future. Parents are likely to have different attitudes regarding concepts like ‘social distancing’ and satisfactory hygiene and home-schooling.

Normal changeover locations might be closed. Some State and Territory borders are closed. Many issues might arise because the current circumstances could not have been foreseen when orders were made.

Parents might consider not complying with an order due to their view that the other parent will not provide adequate health or education support to the child, or their belief that the child might be unwell or infectious and therefore should be kept away from the other parent.

A party will only have a reasonable excuse for contravening a court order in very limited circumstances and serious consequences can follow. You should obtain legal advice if considering departing from a court order, or if the other party is insisting on departing from an order.

If usual parenting arrangements cannot be maintained or need to be changed, then these issues should be communicated to the other parent with the priority being the best interests of the child. Communication and compassion will be more important than ever during these unusual times.

property settlements

In current negotiations, a settlement that was considered ‘just and equitable’ yesterday might not be so today. The values of businesses, shares, real estate and superannuation are rapidly changing, and employment in many fields is less secure.

In some families care responsibility for children might change. Recent valuation reports based on last years’ financials (or last months’) may no longer be accurate. Superannuation is likely to be reacting to market volatility. There are ways of dividing superannuation that are likely to produce a more just and equitable result.

We are working with our clients to help them reach a just and equitable property settlement.

The Family Law team at Macpherson Kelley are committed to looking after our clients and guiding them through these dynamic times.

stay up to date with our news & insights

How COVID-19 is impacting family law and separating couples

26 March 2020
brendan herbert kate barlow

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve and impact upon all of us more each day, it adds another dimension to separating couples already experiencing one of life’s most challenging events.

We are seeing many people trying to solve similar problems and are seeing what is working and what isn’t. In these uncertain times, we want to pass on the best of these ideas to you and update you on very recent changes affecting family law clients, including courts, parenting arrangements, property settlements, family violence and other issues.

family law courts

The Federal Government are committed to the Family Law Courts remaining open at this time, with practical changes being made to administer justice and accommodate health and safety requirements imposed by the Government. Efforts include using telephone technology for all procedural, interim hearings and Divorce hearings that can be conducted this way.

Video technology is being used for conferences including Child Inclusive Conferences, Family Report interviews and Alternative Dispute Resolution. For those matters where attendance at court is considered necessary, then the court is staggering start times throughout the day and allowing no more than eight people in the court room at once. Some matters considered non-urgent may be delayed at the discretion of the presiding Judge. Rules around the swearing of Affidavits are temporarily relaxed.

We are keeping abreast of the rapidly changing procedures and notices issued by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.

As usual, we continue to use Court as a last resort. We continue to resolve disputes through negotiation, mediation and family dispute resolution.

family violence and the magistrates court

All Victorian Magistrates Courts remain open. With greater uncertainty, economic pressures and with couples spending more time together with more restrictions and less routine, it is anticipated and police are braced for an increase in reports of Family Violence.

Courts are prioritising new Applications and are delaying interim hearings. These changes will have significant impacts on both Applicants and Respondents, including some Respondents being prohibited from entering their usual home and contacting or being near family members named in orders.  Existing orders remain in full force and effect.

existing parenting orders

Family Law Act orders remain in full force and effect. Challenges are arising for parents due to school holidays starting early, as well as schools probably not returning to normal in two weeks’ time.

Alternative teaching (such as home-schooling) is likely to be the new normal for at least the short-medium term future. Parents are likely to have different attitudes regarding concepts like ‘social distancing’ and satisfactory hygiene and home-schooling.

Normal changeover locations might be closed. Some State and Territory borders are closed. Many issues might arise because the current circumstances could not have been foreseen when orders were made.

Parents might consider not complying with an order due to their view that the other parent will not provide adequate health or education support to the child, or their belief that the child might be unwell or infectious and therefore should be kept away from the other parent.

A party will only have a reasonable excuse for contravening a court order in very limited circumstances and serious consequences can follow. You should obtain legal advice if considering departing from a court order, or if the other party is insisting on departing from an order.

If usual parenting arrangements cannot be maintained or need to be changed, then these issues should be communicated to the other parent with the priority being the best interests of the child. Communication and compassion will be more important than ever during these unusual times.

property settlements

In current negotiations, a settlement that was considered ‘just and equitable’ yesterday might not be so today. The values of businesses, shares, real estate and superannuation are rapidly changing, and employment in many fields is less secure.

In some families care responsibility for children might change. Recent valuation reports based on last years’ financials (or last months’) may no longer be accurate. Superannuation is likely to be reacting to market volatility. There are ways of dividing superannuation that are likely to produce a more just and equitable result.

We are working with our clients to help them reach a just and equitable property settlement.

The Family Law team at Macpherson Kelley are committed to looking after our clients and guiding them through these dynamic times.