TGB Media and Press

Coronavirus set to cause years of delays in Family Court

The Family Court is bracing for a predicted influx of cases that could last for several years as a result of the pressure of COVID-19 on families in South Australia.
The Law Society is calling for more resources and judicial officers to cope with a burden they predict will last a lot longer than any lockdown and put pressure on an already
strained system.
The Adelaide registry of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, which share the family law jurisdiction, have already seen a spike in the number of emergency
applications since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Over the past six weeks the courts have been finalising an average of 13 matters per sitting day, earning the praise of the Law Society and family law barristers.
However, the Law Society fears an expected spike in divorces and subsequent child custody and asset division court cases will stretch for several years and erode the crucial
services of the court.
President of the South Australian Law Society Tim White said the pandemic had already thrown the system for dividing assets between divorcing couples into such disarray not
seen since the Global Financial Crisis.
“The inevitable consequence of this influx of unprecedented matters is that the already under-resourced family law system will be heaving under the strain of a ballooning
workload for years to come unless significant resources are invested in the system,” he said.
“The courts will be dealing with the fractured relationships caused by this crisis for several

“The stress on the court system is mirrored by the stress on families caused by this crisis.
If the family court system does not have adequate resources to manage the relentless caseload, vulnerable parents and children will be the ones to suffer most.”
Co-chair of the Law Society’s Family Law Committee and Family Court barrister Jane Miller said the legal fraternity had been concerned about the number of judicial officers
before the crisis begun.
“The court is doing a remarkable job keeping the wheels turning but the reality is that at the end of this the system is going to be worse off because of the pandemic,” she said.
“It is in everyone’s interest that this system works efficiently and people are encouraged to reach settlements and the most complex matters continue to trial.”
A Family and Federal Circuit Court spokeswoman said both courts have already faced challenges in the wake of the lockdown.
“The Courts appreciate that the situation is still evolving, and that the impact of the pandemic on families may yet to be fully realised,” she said.
“To ensure that urgent applications can be promptly dealt with, the Courts have established an urgent COVID-19 List to deal with applications filed as a direct result of
COVID-19 on a national basis.”
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said he was monitoring the potential flood of cases closely.
“The Chief Justice has put in place special measures to deal with cases needing immediate attention as a result of issues exacerbated by COVID-19,” he said.
“This follows an increase in the number of urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Nationally, the two courts have finalised more than 4000 orders and applications in the past six weeks with the Adelaide registry accounting for 390 of those decisions.
Special COVID court starts Wednesday.

A special COVID court begins in Adelaide on Wednesday for parents who haven’t let the virus interfere with their child custody warring.
And manager of legal practice at the Legal Services Commission (formerly Legal Aid) Diana Newcombe said it was dealing with a spike in inquiries from divorced and
separated parents.
“As this pandemic spreads, we are seeing an increase in family law disputes in SA,’’ she said.
“Parents are worried about the impact of coronavirus on their children and on the parenting arrangements that are already in place.”
From Monday the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) are establishing a court list dedicated to deal exclusively with urgent parentingrelated disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past four weeks there has been a 39 per cent increase in the work of the Family Court of Australia and a 23 per cent per cent increase in the Federal Circuit Court.
Ms Newcombe said the problems arising were a ban on interstate travel and on the living arrangements of vulnerable children with health conditions that could be exacerbated
by coronavirus.
“Unless there are exceptional circumstances, parents are expected to comply with existing court orders and agreements relating to the care of their children,’’ she said.
“As always, the parenting arrangements must focus on what is in the best interests of the child.
“It’s a stressful time for many families but help is available. Parents can contact our free telephone and online services for information and assistance call 1300 366 424 or visit”


May 3,  2020