The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused havoc around the world socially and economically. It’s also fair to say that no one has ever taken into account the impact of a pandemic when navigating family law issues before. So what are the impacts on couples going through separation or family law proceedings during a pandemic? We thought it would be useful to consider questions clients may have.
“My family law matter is currently before the Family Court/Federal Circuit Court, what will happen to my case now and will the Courts shut down?“”
As things stand the Courts are open and are likely to remain so, albeit in a more limited form. The Court has delivered a media release outlining the protocols on how court hearings will be managed that works within the current advice of the Federal Government.
For further information with respect to the protocols and measures undertaken by the Courts, please visit their website at http://www.familycourt.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/fcoaweb/about/news/ .
What impact does COVID-19 have on parenting arrangements?
The pandemic is not a reason in itself to withhold children from spending time with the other parent unless, there are particular health concerns. If there are existing orders in place parents must meet their obligations under such orders unless there is a reasonable excuse not to do so. However, the pandemic is likely to throw up a large number of previously unforeseen practical issues about facilitating time. This will require the parties themselves to act both sensibly and creatively. By way of example:
- Any extended closure of schools will disrupt many carefully crafted parenting orders and create uncertainty about living and spend time arrangements during “normal” school term times.
- If changeovers normally occur at school or a public venue that is closed, parties will need to come up with their own new solution, ensuring that the social distancing requirements are maintained.
- If a parent or child has to self-quarantine (or there is a general lockdown) how can time with the other parent be maintained? Consider make-up time, re-scheduling school holiday time or electronic communication between the children and the parent via WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype etc.
“With the government imposed social restrictions, there has been an increase in tension between my partner and I and I now fear for my safety. What can I do in such circumstances?“
Unfortunately, restriction of movement of couples outside their home is likely to increase the incidents of family violence. If you find yourself at imminent risk, and fear for your safety, then contact the police and/or consider taking out an Intervention Order. You may need to consider seeking alternative accommodation with family however, seek legal advice first as to your options.
“My partner and I are currently negotiating a property settlement. With the property market crashing and job security being effected, what does that mean for us?“
The pandemic is already having an enormous impact on people’s jobs and the wider economy. This will inevitably lead to a decline in the values of businesses, property and superannuation. If you have already undertaken a valuation prior to the outbreak, it may be necessary to obtain an updated valuation or consider delaying negotiations and valuing assets again, after the pandemic is over. With the volatility of the share market it may also be prudent to divide superannuation based on a percentage value instead of a dollar value.
Resolving matters outside Court
The pandemic should not be an excuse for parties to behave poorly or to take advantage of the situation during this highly anxious time. This could be a time where parties may want to take the opportunity to look at an amicable, efficient and a cost effective resolution to outstanding matters, outside of the Court environment. There are resources available to parties such as mediation or arbitration to amicably resolve issues raised by the pandemic or otherwise. However, parties should be mindful that with restrictions being in place there may likely be limited access to such services and parties should be encouraged to be open to compromise to settle disputes either amongst themselves, if appropriate, or through lawyers.
If you have any questions or wanting to seek advice regarding the legal consequences arising out of the effects of COVID-19 you can contact our office and speak with one of our experienced family lawyers.
For a confidential chat with Luciana Ramos about family law matters, please click here.