What is the court COVID-19 urgent parenting list?
COVID-19 has had a significant impact for separated families, raising issues such as closed State borders and no child contact due to fears of illness. In one month, the court has had a 40% increase in urgent court applications. The court has created a new fast-track process for dealing with these.
This new listing process by the court commenced on 29 April 2020. It will run for 3 months and is called the ‘COVID-19 urgent parenting list’. This list is dedicated exclusively to urgent parenting-related disputes that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The court says that the list is designed to quickly identify and deal with the cases that need urgent attention due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The court states that, “Applications that are eligible to be dealt with through the COVID-19 List, especially those involving issues of risk and family violence, will receive immediate attention and will be triaged by a dedicated Registrar who will assess the needs of the case and allocate it to be heard by a judge withing 72 hours of being assessed”.
Further, the court has said that “It is important that these urgent COVID-19 applications are closely managed on a national basis so that they can be heard as swiftly as possible given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing.”
The following are the examples of applications that may be suitable for filing in the COVID-19 List:
Family Violence: there has been an increase in risk due to family violence resulting from restrictions imposed on families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supervised Contact: the current parenting arrangements involve supervised contact, the contact centre is closed or the supervisor is unable to perform his/her role and the parties cannot agree on an alternate arrangement.
Border restrictions: the parties live in different States or Territories and the child cannot travel between the parties’ residences due to border restrictions.
Medical: the parties and/or child have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot fulfill the parenting obligations due to sickness or concerns of infection.
There is a specific process to follow to meet the requirements of the “COVID-19 list”, this requires the filing of an Initiating Application, a supporting Affidavit (which is limited to only 6 pages) and a Notice of Risk.
Once the Application is filed with the court, the court will assess it to determine if it falls within the urgent COVID-19 criteria. If the matter is accepted, the matter will be given a Court date within 3 business days. For context, an Initiating Application filed in the usual course (i.e. not in the COVID-19 list) would generally receive a court date within 4 to 10 weeks.
The matter will then be provided to a Judge or Registrar based on availability, which may mean the matter is listed in Sydney or Melbourne, even if you live in Brisbane. We have recently been involved in a matter that was listed in the Brisbane court but for the COVID-19 list it was heard by a Sydney judge.
The court also has the power to send a matter off to mediation, if it is suitable, and the court can make orders to that effect.
The court has also implemented important changes for the signing and witnessing of court documents. It is now possible for court documents to be signed by a party electronically, and without the need for a witness. This means that when these urgent issues arise, the documents can be prepared, signed and filed with the court very quickly, without the need to have documents witnessed in the usual course.
If you have a family law issue that is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and may need urgent intervention by the Court, we recommend that you contact us immediately to obtain legal advice to navigate this new and developing process. Contact our office on (07) 3221 4300 for a fixed-fee initial consultation.