The community should be assured that the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Courts) will continue to perform their duties during this time of crisis. Whilst changes to the Courts’ operations have been implemented in accordance with the necessary restrictions placed on our community by the Commonwealth Government, the Courts remain open to assist Australian families in these challenging times.

At this stage, most (if not all) hearings are being conducted via video-conferencing through the use of Microsoft Teams or other platforms, or by telephone. The Courts are also conducting mediations electronically and through other safe means.

More information can be found on the Notice to the Profession - COVID-19 Measures and listing arrangements

More information can be found in the Notice to the Profession - COVID-19 Measures and listing arrangements

Parties who are already involved in court proceedings and were given a date for their next appearance will be notified prior to that date whether it has been adjourned or will go ahead by telephone or videoconferencing.

The Courts urge everyone to seek guidance and a great starting point is through the Family Relationships Advice Line. They can provide information, advice and telephone-based Family Dispute Resolution services to assist parents and carers to discuss any issues that arise and help them come to an agreement. The Family Relationships Advice Line can be contacted on 1800 050 321 or visit the website.

The Courts’ registry services can be accessed remotely and can assist with telephone appointments, electronic filing and the listing of urgent cases.

The National Enquiry Centre is the entry point for all family law enquires in the Courts and can help you to understand family law procedures and provide you with the right forms. The National Enquiry Centre’s phone number is 1300 352 000, however, we are currently experiencing a very high volume of calls. Please check the website for updates about Court operations before contacting us via phone or live chat.

If you or your child is in immediate danger please contact your local police on 000.

If you are concerned about you or your child’s health and wellbeing please contact your doctor.

More information about how to self-assess for your personal risk for coronavirus (COVID-19) is available from the website of the Commonwealth Government.

The Courts are prioritising urgent matters and those that concern the safety of children. Court hearings and events are currently being done by telephone or video-conferencing. The Courts’ registry services can be accessed remotely and can assist with telephone appointments, electronic filing and the listing of urgent cases, contact the Court using live chat or phone 1300 352 000. See Notice to the Profession - COVID-19 Measures and listing arrangements for more information.

Generally speaking, no. Only in exceptional circumstances, a small number of face-to-face in-court hearings may be required, at the request of the parties. For the safety of all concerned, these will only be granted when absolutely necessary. Those hearings will be conducted in strict accordance with the Face-to-face in-court Protocol issued by the Courts. As in any other interaction, social distancing requirements will be strictly followed.

If the appointment was scheduled to take place in the registry building, you will be contacted by the Family Consultant and an arrangement made to interview you and the other party by telephone or video. After these adult interviews are conducted, the Family Consultant will then consider if the children will need to be seen and how that will occur. In some matters, consideration may be given to interviewing older children remotely . Where it is clearly necessary for the child to be interviewed in person, interviews must adhere to the in-person interview protocol.

If the appointment is with a Regulation 7 Family Consultant and was not to occur within the registry building, you will need to make contact with the Regulation 7 Family Consultant directly and discuss how the assessment is to proceed.

In the highly unusual circumstances now faced by Australian parents and carers, there may be situations that arise that make strict compliance with court orders very difficult, if not, impossible. This may be caused, for instance, where orders stipulate that contact with a parent occurs at a designated contact centre, which may not currently be operating. Or, the “pick up” arrangements of a child may nominate a particular school, and that school is now closed. Many state borders are also closed. In addition, there may be genuine safety issues that have arisen where one parent, or someone in close contact with that parent, has been exposed to COVID-19, and this may restrict the safe movement of a child from one house to another.

1. Communicate and reach an agreement if possible

As a first step, and only if it is safe to do so, parties should communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current orders and they should attempt to find a practical solution to these difficulties. These should be considered sensibly and reasonably. Each parent should always consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent when attempting to reach new or revised arrangements. This includes understanding that family members are important to children and the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered. 

If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements, even if they are to be adjusted for a short period of time, this agreement should ideally be in writing, even if by way of email, text message or WhatsApp between each other.

2. Get help to reach an agreement

If you feel that you need further guidance, the Family Relationships Advice Line can provide information, advice and telephone-based Family Dispute Resolution services to assist parents and carers to discuss any issues that arise and help them come to an agreement. The Family Relationships Advice Line can be contacted on 1800 050 321 or visit the website.

Parents and carers can also mediate their differences through lawyers. Electronic mediation services are available from the Courts and through local Bar Associations and Law Societies during these restricted times. Visit their websites for more information.

If an agreement has been reached and consent orders have been developed to outline new or varied parenting orders, consent order applications can be filed electronically with the Court. This process is quick and usually conducted without a hearing.

3. Apply to the Court

If the parties are unable to agree to vary the arrangement, or if it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents continue to have real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders. Procedural information about how to do this is available by contacting the Court using live chat or calling 1300 352 000.

If an agreement can be reached about new parenting arrangements, even if they are to be adjusted for a short period of time, this agreement should ideally be in writing, even if by way of email, text message or WhatsApp messages between each other. This will be particularly important if there are later family law hearings and will assist all concerned, including the Court, to understand what agreement may have been reached.

If an agreement has been reached and consent orders have been developed to outline new or varied parenting orders, consent order applications can be filed electronically with the Court. This process is quick and usually conducted without a hearing.

Every family’s circumstances are different and this is only to be used as general information. The Courts expect that parents and carers will act in the best interests of their children which includes ensuring their children’s safety and wellbeing and complying with Court orders in relation to parenting arrangements. In the highly unusual circumstances now faced by Australian parents and carers, there may be situations that arise that make strict compliance with court orders very difficult.

It is imperative that, even if the orders cannot be strictly adhered to and are varied by the parties, the parties ensure that the purpose or spirit of the orders are respected when considering altering arrangements, and that they act in the best interest of the children.

At all times, parents or carers must act reasonably. To act reasonably, or to have a reasonable excuse for not complying with Court orders, is a matter that is considered by the Court (pursuant to s70NAE of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)).

The Courts are prioritising urgent matters and those that concern the safety of children. Court hearings and events are currently being done by telephone or video-conferencing. For more details see the Notice to the Profession - COVID-19 Measures and listing arrangements.

For more information on this issue, please refer to Media Release - Statement from the Hon Will Alstergren - Parenting Orders and COVID-19 and the Border restrictions and parenting orders page

New applications and other documents, such as consent orders, will need to be filed electronically through the Commonwealth Courts Portal (CCP), more information on how to do that is available on the How do I eFile page. 

Some Australian States and Territories are applying border restrictions in response to the Government’s protocols for non-essential travel. For many of you it is unclear how the border restrictions may affect your court orders. The Courts are working with the State and Territory authorities to introduce exemptions in relation to movement, which will enable you to adhere to court orders and cross borders where it is safe to do so.

When crossing any State or Territory border you may be required to provide the appropriate court order as evidence of such essential movement to border control personnel. Please ensure you also carry current photo identification.

Ideally you should hold a hard copy of the appropriate court order. Alternatively, if you are already in transit and as a large majority of you are already ‘registered users’ of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court portal you can access a copy of your Court Order via the following link www.comcourts.gov.au.

For more information see How do I access orders.

Orders made prior to June 2017 were only produced in hard copy and parties would have been sent a hard copy of orders through the post. After June 2017, all orders became electronic and published on the Commonwealth Court’s Portal (CCP).

To access your file information you will need to register as a user on the Commonwealth Courts Portal. See How do I register for the Commonwealth Courts Portal.

If you have already registered with the CCP see the page How do I access orders.

If your orders were made prior to June 2017, please email the National Enquiry Centre at enquiries@familylawcourts.gov.au

As well as speaking to the Family Relationships Advice Line, parents and carers can mediate their differences through lawyers. Electronic mediation services are available through local Bar Associations and Law Societies during these restricted times. More information is available from the Law Society and Bar Associations in your state or territory.

Where there is no agreement, parents should continue to ensure the safety of their children until the dispute can be resolved. Also during this period of dispute, parents should ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone.

If you are unable to agree to vary shared parenting arrangements, or if it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents continue to have real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders. You can find information on how to do this in the How do I apply for parenting orders page under the heading Applying to change an existing parenting order

The Courts’ registry services can be accessed remotely and can assist with telephone appointments, electronic filing and the listing of urgent cases, contact the Court using live chat or phone 1300 352 000.

The Courts appreciate that mediation and coming to an agreement by mutual consent may not be reached, particularly if one party has concern for their physical safety.

Where there is no agreement, parents should continue to ensure the safety of their children until the dispute can be resolved. Also during this period of dispute, parents should ensure that each parent or carer continues to have some contact with the children consistent with the parenting arrangements such as by videoconferencing, social media, or if that is not possible, by telephone.

If you already have court orders or have family law proceedings, and you are unable to agree to vary shared parenting arrangements, or if it is unsafe to do so, and one or both parents continue to have real concerns, the parties are at liberty to approach the Court electronically and seek a variation of the orders. You can find information on how to do this in the How do I apply for parenting orders page under the heading Applying to change an existing parenting order

The law requires separating families who have a dispute about children to make a genuine effort to try and sort it out through family dispute resolution (FDR) before filing an application for parenting orders in court.

This requirement applies to anyone wanting to file an application with the Court. It also includes those seeking changes to an existing parenting order. There are a few exceptions to this requirement, such as cases involving family violence, child abuse or urgency.

Unless an exemption applies, parties seeking to have a parenting matter determined by the Court will need to electronically file a certificate from an accredited FDR practitioner. The certificate is issued under Section 60I of the Family Law Act 1975 and is commonly known as a Section 60I Certificate.

You can visit Family Relationships Online for more information about the services and advice available for families, including seeking services from an FDR practitioner.

An FDR practitioner is an independent person who can help people discuss issues, look at options and work out how best to reach agreement in disputes about children. You can search for an accredited FDR practitioner who has consented to be on the Family Dispute Resolution Register website.

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