Following on from yesterday’s news, the Family and Federal Circuit Courts have announced changes to registrars and child dispute services procedures in response to COVID-19, effective immediately:
FROM THE FAMILY COURT OF AUSTRALIA AND THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT OF AUSTRALIA
Managing the health and safety of the community, Judges and staff is our priority. Due to the escalating situation regarding COVID-19, and in anticipation of any further measures announced by Government, some urgent operational arrangements will be put in place effective immediately (unless otherwise noted) across the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court (the ‘Courts’).
The aim of the new arrangements is to ensure that all urgent and priority matters are able to be dealt with safely by the Courts, whilst at the same time, ensuring appropriate social distancing is adhered to.
It is important to stress that the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly changing and the arrangements listed below are subject to change at short notice. It is expected that additional details clarifying the matters below, and updated protocols (for example, in relation to larger lists), will be disseminated shortly (as early as later today).
1. Where attendance is required, divorces will be conducted by telephone to the greatest extent possible, effective from Thursday, 19 March 2020 to the end of June 2020.
2. Joint applications – will be done by Registrars on the papers and parties are not required to attend Court. If a party has selected to attend at Q2(a) of the divorce application, they will be advised that attendance is not required.
3. Sole applications –
- Court attendance is not required if there are no children of the marriage. Parties and lawyers should not attend Court in-person under any circumstance.
- Court attendance is required (by the Act) if there are children under the age of 18 years. Attendance should be via telephone and parties and lawyers are requested not to attend Court in-person.
- Applicants will be sent an email advising that they are to attend a virtual courtroom and will be provided an AAPT number to dial-in to the virtual courtroom.
Communication to lawyers/parties
4. Where there are children under the age of 18 years, and Court attendance is required for sole applications, registry staff will send emails to lawyers and applicants advising that attendance should be via telephone.
5. If the applicant is seeking orders for dispensation of service, these will dealt with by telephone.
Conduct of divorce lists
6. Divorce lists will be staggered into three time slots per day. Each time slot will have a maximum of 10-12 matters listed. The list will be split between two Registrars, facilitating staggering and telephone attendances.
7. Matters will be listed to the end of June 2020, allowing for increasing adjournment slots in July and August.
FCoA Directions List
8. All Family Court Registrar Directions Lists will be conducted by telephone where limited to a procedural issue.
9. Where a matter is contested, written submissions are to be filed at the direction of Registrar with orders to be made in chambers.
10. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person, attendance will be via telephone.
Conferences (FCoA & FCC)
11. All Case Assessment Conferences and Conciliation Conferences will be conducted via telephone.
12. Practitioners and parties will be sent dial-in details with relevant AAPT account numbers.
13. Practitioners and parties are still required to provide/exchange the usual documents in advance of the Conciliation Conference (where ordered by the Judge) and proposed orders to both the Court and to the other party prior to the conference.
14. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person.
15. Where possible, Registrars will utilise video/telephone alternatives for events that would otherwise be conducted on circuits. We are in the process of reviewing all circuit arrangements and the Courts will provide further information shortly.
Discrete Property Lists, PPP500 Lists and Contravention Lists
16. Discrete Property Lists and PPP500 Lists will be conducted via telephone rather than in-person.
17. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person, attendance will be via telephone.
18. All associated Conferences are to be conducted via telephone where possible.
FCoA Senior Registrar Lists
19. Parties and practitioners should attend by telephone if possible.
20. The parties and practitioners are still required to provide a short case outline, identifying the evidence they wish to rely upon together with a minute of proposed orders.
Documents for telephone hearings
21. Any documents that would usually be handed up on the day of an in-person hearing or conference, must now be provided by the parties by email to the Registry at least one business day in advance of the hearing or conference by telephone.
Child Dispute Conferences
1. All Child Dispute Conferences (CDCs) will be conducted by telephone.
2. Parties will be sent dial-in details with relevant AAPT account numbers or, alternatively, will be asked to provide their contact details.
3. There will be no requirement to attend Court in-person.
Child Inclusive Conferences
4. Existing orders for Child Inclusive Conferences (CICs) will, subject to the views of the Judge, be serviced as CDCs. We are actively discussing with Judges moving towards more CDCs (which can be done via telephone) rather than CICs for as many matters as possible, as quickly as possible.
5. Where a necessary CIC has been ordered, it will be conducted consistent with social distancing principles as far as possible.
Child Responsive Program (FCoA)
6. Meetings with the adult parties (MIA) will be conducted by telephone.
7. Necessary meetings with children (MCF) will proceed as arranged at the Registry.
8. Family report interviews scheduled will proceed as arranged, unless the parties are advised otherwise by CDS but will be conducted consistent with social distancing principles as far as possible.
9. Where possible, Family Consultants will utilise telephone alternatives for CDCs that would otherwise be conducted on circuits. We are in the process of reviewing all circuit arrangements and the Courts will provide further information shortly.