The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have established a priority list to deal with urgent family law matters.

The list was originally set to run for a number of months during the height of the pandemic but has been expanded to help address urgent cases continuing to arise that are directly affected or escalated by issues related to the pandemic, some examples of which include:

  • Family violence: where there has been an escalation or increase in risk due to family violence associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Medical: where the parties cannot fulfil the parenting obligations due to a party and/or child testing positive for COVID-19 or medical complications from having contracted COVID-19, or due to concerns about infection or quarantine requirements.
  • Vaccinations: disputes about a child being vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Travel arrangements or border restrictions: where the parties live in different states or territories and there are difficulties or anticipated difficulties with the child travelling between the parties’ residences, or a party is planning international travel.

A full list of examples can be viewed directly on the Family Court of Australia’s website.

If a matter meets all of the criteria set by the Court to join the Covid-19 Priority List, they will have the advantage of significantly reduced waiting times, where:

  • Applications meeting the COVID-19 criteria and deemed as “urgent” will be heard within three business days.
  • Matters that are found as not “urgent”, but a “priority”, will be heard within seven business days.
  • If your case does not meet the COVID-19 list criteria, your matter will be designated to your local Court registry for processing, this will generally take between 4-6 weeks.

A case will be heard in one of three ways once the application process has been complete:

  • A virtual court hearing before a Judge;
  • A virtual court hearing before a Senior Registrar or Registrar;
  • If appropriate, electronic family dispute resolution, mediation or conciliation with a Registrar (or in certain circumstances, also with a Family Consultant).

This allows more efficient access to justice and support for families whose situation is influenced by the pandemic.  Unfortunately some disputes in the Family Court system can wait many months to be heard by a Judge, even where there are urgent issues to be addressed.

Chief Justice Will Alstergren said on the matter of the list expansion “The continuation and expansion of the COVID-19 list will provide families that are experiencing family law disputes as a direct result of the pandemic, with an avenue to have that specific issue heard and resolved.”

For further information about your family law dispute, or the COVID – 19 and how it relates to your situation, please contact the Family Law team at WMD Law.