Following the success of the COVID-19 List this year, which has, on a national basis, quickly and effectively assisted many litigants, together with the additional funding provided by government for the list, I am pleased to announce that the COVID-19 List operating in the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia is expanding.
Noting the direct impacts of COVID-19 are evolving, and drawing on extensive consultation with the Women’s Legal Services, various Men’s Groups, Relationships Australia and various Legal Aid organisations, we are expanding the criteria for the List to provide greater opportunities for litigants to seek urgent assistance from the Courts and take advantage of the fast-track nature of the list.
The expanded COVID-19 List will operate from 20 January 2021 and an updated Joint Practice Direction will be issued prior to that date.
The expanded criteria will capture matters which are directly or indirectly related to COVID-19, and if indirectly, have a significant connection to COVID-19. Which applications will be accepted into the expanded COVID-19 is at the discretion of the National Registrar or Judge assessing the application. However, to provide a degree of guidance, the following are examples of applications that may be considered suitable, subject to the specifics of each case, for filing in the COVID-19 List:
- Family violence: There has been an escalation or increase in risk due to family violence associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples include (but are not limited to) a breach of a family violence order, a party being charged with a family violence related offences or recent child welfare agency involvement with the family related to family violence concerns.
- Suspension of parenting orders due to a family violence order: where either parenting orders or a parenting plan have been suspended by an ex parte family violence order made during the COVID-19 pandemic and a party seeks that the Court make further parenting orders.
- Medical: The parties cannot fulfil the parenting obligations due to a party and/or child testing positive for COVID-19 or medical complications from having contracted COVID-19, or due to concerns about infection or quarantine requirements.
- Vaccinations: at the relevant time, there is a dispute about a child being vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Supervised contact: the current parenting arrangements involve supervised contact, and the contact centre is closed or the supervisor is unable to perform their role, and the parties cannot agree on an alternative arrangement.
- Travel arrangements or border restrictions: the parties live in different States or Territories and there are difficulties or anticipated difficulties with the child travelling between the parties’ residences, including due to any Government restrictions, or a party is planning international travel.
- Urgent or priority financial and maintenance issues: a party is experiencing financial distress related to the impact of COVID-19 and requires urgent court orders, for example, an application for occupation or sale of a property.
- Failure to resume time in accordance with parenting orders or a parenting plan: where parties agreed to suspend parenting orders or a parenting plan due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there has been a failure or refusal to resume compliance with those parenting orders or that parenting plan following the easing of COVID-19 related restrictions.
- COVID-19 related employment: a party is a front line health worker or engaged in other employment connected with COVID-19 that is impacting parenting arrangements or compliance with orders.
Matters which are assessed as suitable for the list and are urgent will continue to be given a first court date before a Judge, Senior Registrar or Registrar for an initial hearing within 3 business days. Where matters are otherwise assessed as suitable for the list but an urgent date is not necessary, they will be listed for an initial hearing within 7 business days.
If applications do not meet the criteria, but they are urgent, they will continue to go into the normal abridgement list. If they are not urgent they will be treated like any other application and be referred to the Duty Lists.
Both the Deputy Chief Justice and I will continue to oversee and monitor the performance of the expanded lists, which commence operation on 20 January 2021. The existing COVID-19 List will continue to operate, including during the holiday period, as will the usual urgent applications process, prior to the commencement of the expanded list.
It is important that the Courts continue to proactively manage COVID-19 related applications as Australian families continue to deal with the longer term consequences presented by the pandemic. Thank you for your ongoing support of this important initiative for Australian families.
The Hon. Justice William Alstergren
Family Court of Australia
Federal Circuit Court of Australia