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How Will COVID-19 Affect My Upcoming Family Law Hearing?

Practical steps have been taken by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in the face of Covid-19. A common question we are being asked by many clients is “How will COVID-19 affect my upcoming family law hearing?”

How will COVID-19 affect my upcoming family law hearing?

 

The Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have been required to quickly adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Courts must adhere to restrictive requirements which are necessarily imposed by the Government Act. As a result, they cannot administer justice in the usual way, and have had to make significant changes. These changes have been implemented to balance the health and safety of the community, profession, Judges and staff, with the need to continue this essential service.

How will COVID-19 affect my upcoming family law hearing? What arrangements have the court put in place?

As of 23 March 2020, the Courts Registry Service announced that it would be providing remote service by telephone and through online services. This included the majority of Court Hearings taking place by telephone, and eventually it is anticipated, by video link.

The Court has issued Directions to the practitioners to streamline the Court process and to limit attendance at the Court itself. This includes greater use of e-filing via the Commonwealth Court Portal.

Watts McCray Lawyers have had several matters listed before the Courts during the first week of telephone listings. Practitioners are given designated dial in details and are able to make submissions to the presiding judge by telephone. It is possible for clients or parties who are unrepresented to also dial in to these hearings, at the invitation of the Court.

What about Defended Hearings?

The Courts have indicated that they will conduct a telephone listing for those matters that have a Defended Hearing in the next two months. In the instance that the matter is high priority, it is likely to continue in accordance with the face-to-face in Court protocol being used by the Court, which includes limiting the amount of time in Court and possibly having some of the hearing conducted by telephone.

For matters that are a lower priority, you may find that the Court will direct to Mediation or another alternate dispute resolution event, with the Trial Date to be adjourned to another date to be advised.

How will COVID-19 affect my upcoming family law hearing?

Face to Face Court Protocol

The face to face Court protocol issued by the Court, and subject to regular review, provides that where matters cannot be dealt with by telephone:

  • Short Mention or Directions Hearing will be listed at 30 minute intervals.
  • Larger contested matters will not be listed for more than 1.5 hours, with sufficient time in between listing to allow cleaning to occur.
  • Generally face to face hearings will be supplemented by written submissions.
  • The Court has also issued guidance of no more than 8 people may be in the Court Room at any time.
  • Solicitors and parties are to adhere to social distancing by seating in designated seats.

We note the arrangements for the Court will continue to be reviewed in line with the parameters of advice from the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Chief Medical Officer and the above information is correct as at the date of posting.

If you have a Hearing before the Court in the next few months it is important that:

  • The Court has your correct contact details – so details of any changes to the hearing can be communicated to you;
  • If you require legal advice as to practice procedure or your matter, generally, please do not hesitate to contact Watts McCray Lawyers, who can assist you to navigate you through these difficult times.