By Amanda Humphreys, Special Counsel
This is a challenging time for all of us around the World, but particularly for separated families already under stress. Over recent weeks our family law team has been seeing families grappling with:
- Implementation of parenting arrangements, parenting plans and orders, in the context of:
- Increasing community protection measures, social distancing, social isolation and quarantine requirements
- Extension of school holidays
- Parents working from home
- Children learning from home
- Reduced access to childcare, contact centres and other supervisory services
- Parents and children unable to travel to spend time with one another due to overseas and interstate travel restrictions
- Heightened anxiety and stress experienced by parents and children
- Property and financial issues, including
- Loss of employment
- Economic consequences for businesses and business valuations
- Market changes impacting investments and superannuation
- Changes in the real estate market and restrictions on auctions and open for inspections
- Partners living separately under the one roof, unable to physically separate
- Family violence and breaches of intervention orders
- Child support issues, including the need to revisit child support obligations due to changed income and parenting arrangements
- Contravention of existing court orders, agreements and longstanding arrangements
- For some, the need to revisit previous court orders, agreements and arrangements, which may no longer be appropriate
- Changed access to courts and other services
Our expert team is continuing to assist existing and new clients navigate these and many other difficulties through the unprecedented situation in which we all now find ourselves.
We are accustomed to working remotely and assisting clients overseas and interstate to negotiate, mediate and litigate their family disputes. We regularly communicate with our clients by phone and email and using video conferencing facilities including Skype and Zoom. We are able to conduct mediations and court proceedings assisted by various technologies, as we have done with our cross-border matters for many years. Our practice management software enables the sharing of documents securely online and the preparation of electronic briefs to counsel. We are accustomed to online filing via the Commonwealth Courts Portal and the preparation of electronic appeal books for example.
Our team is keeping up to date on a daily basis with changing community health protection measures, modified court processes, access to services and available technologies and we have been learning from our family law colleagues overseas who have been adjusting to all of this ahead of us here in Australia.
We are continuing to conduct mediations, progress settlements and advance court proceedings for our clients. We are also working with like-minded practitioners to consider arbitration for appropriate matters as an alternative to court hearings where families face even longer court delays as a result of the change to court services during the pandemic.
Our relationships with our commercial law colleagues, barristers, mediators, family dispute resolution (FDR) practitioners, psychologists, valuers and accountants is such that we are able to work with those professionals, remotely where necessary, to continue progress matters for our clients, recognising that putting matters on hold is not an option for many and some families are even more keen to finalise their disputes right now.
In the meantime, some resources that might be of interest and assistance can be accessed at the links below:
- Statement from the Chief Justice of the Family Law Courts, Parenting orders and COVID-19 Importantly, parents and carers are reminded to act in the best interests of their children and that they are expected to comply with court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. However, the Chief Justice acknowledges there will be unusual circumstances where strict compliance with court orders may not possible and provides guidance for those families.
- Family Law Section, Law Council of Australia, Top Ten Guide for Separated Parents during Covid19
- Joint statement of the AFCC and AAML, Seven guidelines for parents who are divorced / separated and sharing custody of children during the Covid19 pandemic
- Australian Government, Services Australia – Affected by coronavirus (COVD-19)
- Family Court of Australia, Information for parents – questions and answers
- Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Information for parents – questions and answers
- Australian Government, Treasury – Support for Businesses including the Coronavirus business Liaison Unit