Family & Divorce

The impact of Coronavirus on Family Law matters

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For separated families the additional stress and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 has added an unwanted layer of complexity to resolving care arrangements and finalising property settlements.Now more than ever is the time to seek specialised family law advice to cut through complexity created by COVID-19.

Many families have wondered what impact COVID-19 will have on resolving their Family Law matter. Even with the uncertainty we are all facing at the moment there a numerous ways to move towards resolving family law disputes, which simply require more creative solutions and exploring alternate pathways.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Family Court The Honourable William Alstergren has taken the unusual step of releasing a public statement and speaking on radio to reassure separating families that the Court had adapted to the changing requirements brought about by COVID-19 and is still open and available to assist families reach a resolution in their Family Law dispute.  The Court is well aware that for many families their case simply cannot wait until COVID-19 is resolved. The Court has encouraged families to remain calm, sensible and reasonable in their negotiations and discussions with their ex but also has recognised that in many cases the Court will still be required to achieve a resolution.

The Family Law Courts is now hearing the vast majority of matters via telephone and are exploring other online platforms to assist with the progression of cases during this unusual time. The quickly adapting manner in which the Court is evolving reflects the reality that life goes on and the need for assistance to resolve care arrangements, property settlements, child support and spousal maintenance does not stop simply because a pandemic has arrived on our doorsteps.

While the way in which the Court will offer its service, in the short term, has changed, there are also a number of other ways to still progress negotiations with your ex if you need outside assistance including mediation services (which are now also available by telephone or services such as zoom), lawyer managed negotiations and Court where the other options are not suitable or have been exhausted.

Where there are existing Court orders in place the Court expects that parties will continue to comply with those Court Orders and if one or both parties considers that those Orders are no longer appropriate in light of COVID-19 to, where safe to do so, attempt to negotiate alternative arrangements, including with the assistance of lawyers if need be.

If negotiation is not appropriate or unsuccessful and one party holds real concerns that existing arrangements are no appropriate then you can apply to the Court to vary those orders or arrangements. If there is immediate danger then the Court has recommended that you contact Police and seek medical assistance. Once the immediate danger has passed it is then appropriate to obtain legal advice about the best way forward, depending on your circumstances, which are different for every family.

If you consider it necessary to change Court Orders or care arrangements in light of COVID-19 it is important that you obtain independent legal advice so any changes can be properly documented so there is no confusion down the track or unintended consequences to any variations.

The key message from the Court is that communication is key and the safety and best interests of children must come first and foremost when navigating a way forward in this time of crisis. The Court also recognises that now more then ever people want to move forward with their lives financially if possible and create greater certainty in their lives.

Like the Court, our offices continue to remain open and our lawyers are on hand if you require help.

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