The Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) have each established a court list dedicated to dealing exclusively with urgent family law disputes that have arisen as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The list commenced in April 2020, and has been expanded effective from 20 January 2021.

The operation of the COVID-19 Lists is set out in Joint Practice Direction 1 of 2021.

NOTE: do not eFile your application if seeking to be heard in the COVID-19 List. All documents must be emailed to COVID19List@familycourt.gov.au for filing.

Can I file in the COVID-19 List?

To be eligible for the COVID-19 List, you must satisfy all of the following criteria:

  • The application has been filed as a direct result of, or if indirect, has a significant connection to, the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The matter is urgent or of a priority nature;
  • The application is accompanied by an Affidavit (using the COVID-19 template affidavit) that addresses all of the criteria;
  • If safe to do so, you have made reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute but you were unsuccessful;
  • The matter can be dealt with using electronic means (e.g.: using telephone or videoconferencing).

Examples:

  • Family violence: There has been an escalation or increase in risk due to family violence associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples include (but are not limited to) a breach of a family violence order, a party being charged with a family violence related offences or recent child welfare agency involvement with the family related to family violence concerns.
  • Suspension of parenting orders due to a family violence order: where either parenting orders or a parenting plan have been suspended by an ex parte family violence order made during the COVID-19 pandemic and a party seeks that the Court make further parenting orders.  
  • Vaccinations: at the relevant time, there is a dispute about a child being vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Medical: 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.
  • Travel arrangements or border restrictions: the parties live in different States or Territories and there are difficulties or anticipated difficulties with the child travelling between the parties’ residences, including due to any Government restrictions, or a party is planning international travel.
  • Supervised contact: the current parenting arrangements involve supervised contact, and the contact centre is closed or the supervisor is unable to perform their role, and the parties cannot agree on an alternative arrangement.
  • Urgent or priority financial and maintenance issues: a party is experiencing financial distress related to the impact of COVID-19 and requires urgent court orders, for example, an application for occupation or sale of a property.
  • Failure to resume time in accordance with parenting orders or a parenting plan: where parties agreed to suspend parenting orders or a parenting plan due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there has been a failure or refusal to resume compliance with those parenting orders or that parenting plan following the easing of COVID-19 related restrictions.
  • COVID-19 related employment: a party is a front line health worker or engaged in other employment connected with COVID-19 that is impacting parenting arrangements or compliance with orders.

How do I file in the COVID-19 List?

  1. Prepare the following documents:
    1. the application;
    2. a supporting affidavit of no more than 6 pages using the COVID-19 template affidavit;
    3. a cover letter advising that the matter is urgent (see Annexure to JPD1 of 2021); and
    4. a Notice of child abuse, family violence or risk.
  2. In your affidavit, address the following criteria:
    1. why the matter is urgent or a priority;
    2. how the dispute is directly related, or has a significant connection to COVID-19;
    3. details of any current allegations of risk to children or parties, such as a risk of child abuse or family violence;
    4. details of the parties’ reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute through negotiation, or details of why it was not safe to attempt to resolve the dispute by negotiation;
    5. details of how it is proposed the Respondent can be provided with a copy of the court documents, including information about the Respondent’s current email address and telephone number, including for any legal representative; ;
    6. whether the Applicant seeks that the Respondent be served by email, and if so, the affidavit must include evidence that the Respondent has recently used that email address (e.g. annexing to the affidavit an email recently received from that email address); and
    7. If applicable, annexing (or attaching a photo or copy of) any current family law orders, parenting plans, or family violence orders, e.g. an intervention order or domestic violence order and details of any charges or convictions resulting from breaches of those family violence orders.
  3. In accordance with Joint Practice Direction 2 of 2020, you may sign the Application and Affidavit electronically. The Affidavit may be filed without a qualifying witness signing the document.
  4. File your application by emailing the above documents to COVID19List@familycourt.gov.au. Unless it is not safe to do so, you must copy the other parties into the email when emailing the documents to the Court to put them on notice of the proceedings.

Fees

A filing fee is payable when filing an Initiating Application or an Application in a Case (see the Family Law (Fees) Regulation 2012).

When filing in the COVID-19 List, also send either:

It is noted that Joint Practice Direction 2 of 2020 in relation to deferral of fee payments also applies to the COVID-19 list.

For further information see: Guidelines for family law fee exemption, reduction, deferral and refund

How does the COVID-19 List work?

After submitting your application, the Court will assess whether you meet the criteria for the COVID-19 List. If the matter is suitable for the COVID-19 List, you will receive a first return date within three business days of your application being assessed by the Court if assessed as urgent, or otherwise within 7 business days if priority but not urgent. If your application is not assessed as meeting the criteria for the COVID-19 List, you will be notified and your matter will be emailed to your nearest Court registry for processing and the allocation of a date. The first return date may be 4 to 6 weeks from filing.

Depending on the issues in your case, the application may be dealt with via:

  • 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).

The Court will notify you as soon as possible as to how your application will be listed, and make orders or directions for any further action you need to take.

Parties are reminded that the Courts’ Statement of Core Principles applies to the case management of all family law applications filed in the COVID-19 List. Parties are expected to act in accordance with these principles. 

If you have any queries, please contact the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.