The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has significantly impacted all aspects of everyday life. The court system and related family law services are not immune, which has meant the industry has had to adapt and look to new innovations, in response to the developing crisis. Amidst a time of domestic and social upheaval, it is important to note that Family Law Services are still readily available for those in need. There must also be an acknowledgement that these foreign circumstances give rise to a number of issues in relation to Family Law.
Self-isolation as it relates to family violence and abuse
There is growing concern amongst family violence academics, service providers and family law practitioners that there will likely see a ‘spike’ in the incidence of family violence in our community, predominately as a consequence of increased social isolation and financial pressures on families, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Violence is never acceptable and it is now more important than ever that members of our community report suspected or observed incidences of family violence and abuse (to Victoria Police or Child Protection Services) to ensure the protection of our most vulnerable. It is often situations of financial distress and social isolation that lead to instances of family violence, both of which are rife in the current societal circumstance. Furthermore, it is possible that those parties subject to Intervention Orders will flout the new circumstances and seek to breach these orders. As such, it is imperative that victims of family violence and abuse are supported in the knowledge that Intervention Orders are still valid and enforceable.
Families’ living and parenting arrangements may be disrupted during the coming months, as self isolation and travel restrictions are mandatorily enforced. However, it is imperative that parents continue to observe Parenting Court Orders where applicable. That is, unless with reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse could include either parent and/or the children being required to quarantine themselves, travel restrictions, or due to the pending closure of Victorian and NSW schools.
In the event that international, domestic or local travel restrictions imposed by the government prevent a parent (or other relative or important figure in the child’s life) from spending time with the children in accordance with a court order or agreed parenting plan, children’s time arrangements can, and should, still be facilitated via electronic means such as Skype or Facetime. Parents have an obligation to foster and facilitate their children’s meaningful relationship with the other parent (subject to any risk of harm to the child and or specific court order to the contrary) and this should be heeded to even in these foreign circumstances.
The Family and Federal Circuit Court will continue to hear court applications regarding parenting matters, with urgent applications provided priority.