Podcast: International Family Law & COVID-19 – The International Family Law Group, UK

Episode 12

In this podcast Sally Nicholes and Keturah Sageman of Nicholes Family Lawyers speak with David Hodson OBE and Stuart Clark, both Partners of the International Family Law Group.

The International Family Law Group is a specialist family law firm in London, United Kingdom with specialist expertise in international family law matters.

In this global conversation Sally, Keturah, Stuart and David compare the British and Australian family law jurisdictions’ response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and what positive changes might arise, to their respective legal industries, as a result of the crisis.

Keturah Sageman:

Welcome everyone to the Nicholes Family Lawyers Podcast. I’m Keturah Sageman, a Senior Partner at Nicholes Family Lawyers. I’m joined by my colleague, Sally Nicholes, Managing Partner at Nicholes Family Lawyers here in Melbourne, Australia.

Today, we’re speaking with David Hodson and Stuart Clark from London. David Hudson is a partner and co-founder of the International Family Law Group, a specialist family law firm in London, UK, dedicated to serving international families. David is a leading family lawyer in the UK and abroad. He was the creator of Family Law Arbitration in England and Wales, which has now been emulated in many other countries around the world. He’s a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and in 2014, Her Majesty The Queen, appointed David as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to International Family Law. David is also a visiting professor at the University of Law in England and lectures annually on International Family Law at the University of Queensland.

Stuart Clark is a fellow partner of the International Family Law Group with over 10 years of experience working as both a barrister and family law solicitor in the UK. He represents the family law profession on the Family Court Users Group and has been leading the solicitor’s profession in respect of online divorce and other online procedures, working closely with the UK Ministry of Justice.

Between them, Stuart and David share decades of experience in practicing family law in Britain specializing in family law cases involving an international component.

Welcome, David and Stuart. It’s an absolute pleasure to have both of you on our podcast. Today, we wanted to talk to you about how the family law jurisdiction in the UK is adapting in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and to share how we, as lawyers, are helping clients navigate these very uncertain times. Could you tell us a bit about your firm and the typical matters your firm often deals with?

David Hodson:

Thank you. We set up in 2007 in the face of the last global crisis, the GFC, the Global Financial Crisis. So, obviously, a crisis can be bad, but it can also could, in some ways, set law firms, etc.

My co-founder, Ann Thomas and I had been working in family law over many years that had a significant number of international clients, families from around the world. We were convinced there is a need for a distinctive service providing a support for the international families and their children around the world. There had been no practice and set-up of the sort and we were certain that there was a need in the market.

We’ve been delighted at how it’s gone over the intervening 13 years. If I should, we have now, I think, eight or nine partners, a number of other solicitors, and support staff. It’s gone from strength to strength.

From the very beginning, I was absolutely committed to innovations through digital technology because international families live their lives in a digital environment, in a way much more than national families. They are moving around the globe. They can’t put their roots down in a particular neighborhood. They put their roots down in the digital environment. I have felt strongly that we, as a law firm looking up to their needs, had to help them from the very beginning. Stuart is now looking out to the IT in our practice. He’s doing a great job for us. From the very beginning, we’ve been saying, “How can we adapt our distinctive practice to help the distinctive needs of clients around the world?” Of course, pop in and see if they, in another time zone, we got to adapt to that. We’ve been using Skype for years and years and years.

But I think we have been hugely frustrated to the lack of progress from our national justice system. Our courts, sometimes, some practitioners will then somehow, equally hop on with us. We were also involved in the online divorce. So we were the first firm in the country to issue an online divorce petition.

That’s the way the practice has developed. We are desperately, desperately saddened – let us be very clear – about all those happening. The fact that it is bringing forward, I would say, possibly, accelerating for years, what might, otherwise have happened. In that respect and that respect only, there is a silver lining.

Stuart, I don’t know if you’ve got more to say from your perspective.

Stuart Clark:

Well, I’ll come on to what’s been happening with the court service in England over the last few weeks, more innovations, what development there have been. But just speaking of what David is saying, we’ve been trying to push this forward over the last few years with some advances such as in the online issuing of divorces. But in terms of remote hearings, in terms of electronic bundling, there has been ideas pushed around and discussed but no real implementation. It’s really unresolved crisis conditions over the last month or so. There’s been an acceleration of that to which, again, not one thing to see a silver lining, that acceleration has been marked and will have changed the arena of family law justice in England once we get back to normal conditions.

Sally Nicholes:

That’s similar to Australia, too. Our courts are going virtual. I think there’s been a glitch with some of our software. The courts have been trying to implement that it will make, we think at the end of this crisis, there will be some efficiencies and changes for the better, particularly those in remote areas or people who online access to justice.

In terms of your European neighbors, are you finding that they’re keeping up with the digital responses well? Are you still having cases– I mean, are you having to file on different jurisdictions? How have your neighbors coped with it?


We’ve heard less feedback from Europe than we have from the common law. My feeling, generally, is that common law jurisdictions have been experimenting with it more. That’s, perhaps, the way the professions are organized differently in civil law. Perhaps, there’s been interaction between the civil lawyers and the courts. They have been working as much with no traces necessarily as the civil courts. So such in our experience has been far more with common law jurisdictions than it has been in civil law jurisdictions. Yes.


I can only speak anecdotally about Italy which, of course, is one of the countries worst hit by the current whole crisis. It is not, in contrast with that, as advanced with online filing of documents. I know, anecdotally, from a colleague that of course, literally, not being open because of the severity of the shutdown has meant that initiating proceedings has become quite difficult there. But I say only, anecdotally, had less feedback from across mainland Europe.


So looking at the pandemic, how has your actual judicial system, the Family Law of Jurisdiction in Britain, adapt to the current crisis, logistically?


Doing practice in other countries and in England, we felt there was a complete contrast between the public service and the private sector. The court service, Ministry of Justice, we felt was incredibly slow off the mark. For about another week to 10 days, they were still saying they could have court hearings even though there was non-essential travel, etc. There were court hearings particularly in the criminal sphere. They still went ahead with a few jury trials, lawyers having to get in to cells, etc. It’s scandal. It’s almost as if they were not facing the reality. Lawyers were really put into a really a hard position.

In absolute contrast, the private sector, solicitors, barristers, some judges, in as far as they have innovative ability, moved interaction fairly quickly. I would say it’s not surprising about the barristers because many courts, physically closed in many ways, the barristers, they are  resenting. It’s catastrophic at the bar. We, solicitors, have been out to continue, but bar has really had difficulties. A number of chambers have said if this continues more than another few more weeks, we will be in major difficulties.

Some of the barristers, particularly, in terms of family law, were incredibly innovative. They are a smaller group than solicitors able to do it. Within a few days, they were putting together good practice. They were trying out the video conferencing that we’ve all been vaguely looking at and experimenting with. They were saying the things that don’t work, the things that do work. Very quickly, two forms of video user became prevalent. Zoom which we are using and Lifesize. We had one judge, Nick Mostyn, there was the Justice Mostyn, formal title, was the first one to do a remote hearing. He did one court protection matter. We had another one, David Williams, who’s the Justice Williams, was the first one to produce a remote judgment after a remote hearing in the charge of [inaudible] with Spain.

Judges got on board with the barristers, solicitors, organizations, and they have, aggressively been producing some wonderful guidance for us how best to conduct a hearing. Judges are still, some of them, going into the court room; no one there. There’s a risk attached to it and they have been given court papers. I mean, Dickens could have been besieged the role. There is the judge sitting up on high, the court guards saying “Judge, may I give you the papers?” and, of course, it must be a phone hearing or a video hearing or whatever. But it’s a fairly chronic situation.

In the private sector, along with the family judges, we have transformed matters. Many solicitors’ firms have relished this opportunity. The first week was, again, chronic as we all set ourselves up. Laptop sales, webcam sales. You can buy a webcam on Amazon for the first week. They actually, went through the roof. But after the first week, I can say more, we felt quite comfortable with it. Then in the last week, the President of the Family Division as Chief Justice, that’s Andrew McFarlane, he’s launched a fast consultation in two weeks. I mean, gosh, normally, they used to take about six months, but a two-week consultation. What should remote hearings be like in the future in the Family Division work. First time, we are very distinctive.

Stuart said coordinating our response, we’ve got around the world. Stuart, that is my take on it. We’ve had Zoom meetings, we haven’t been face-to-face. What would be your take on how you think the profession, generally, and family in particular?


Just picking up on that sort of a theme of speed, the speed which we’ve had to adapt as David’s spoken about the profession in the private sector and how we have sort of outbuy necessity adapted. We’ve been quite well set-up as a firm working, digitally, for a number of years so it’s been a lot smoother transition. The court service, these things take some time and it has been much slow. The movement, up until the 23rd of March, which when the official lock down started in the UK, was a lot slower but has been sped up in the last few weeks. David mentioned the guidance from the court. The High Court judge, Ministry of Justice McDonald who has released and updated periodically a document called The Remote Access Family Court, already by the fourth of April, we were on the fourth version of that which has been released. So a lot of very quick movement just shown by the updates which were coming through, I think, at times twice a week on that overall guidance document.

There’s been advance use to that. It has sort of produced some guidance for us to guide us over the last three to four weeks. But some pitfalls have a risen on that. Unfortunately, because of the speed at which the court service has had to adapt, there’s been a number of inconsistencies not only with the guidance, but also how the guidelines have been applied. I can take you through sort of how the court itself is operating.

Taken from the start, there’s been an  adjournment of courts of non-essential hearings to be expected–


Yes, similar to us.


It’s a crisis situation and certain hearings can– let’s be honest, they can wait, or at least they should wait and with prioritized hearings taking place with lower capacity for the courts. So care proceedings, urgent hearings about the children are being prioritized, which of course, is to be expected and is fully supported.That, as an overrule, from the court is to be expected as the same is supported. But the definition of what hearings are to take place and what not taking place has been unfortunately, owing to the speed of which we’re developing, somewhat inconsistently applied. There’s a bit of lack in the uniformity, not only between venues of the family court but even within the same family court venue. I’ve had a number of hearings at local courts within London where we simply at this point do not know. It is getting better. The consultation there we’ve mentioned that is now taking place should mean that within a few weeks, we do reach that level of consistency. It’s been a matter of us as professionals in advising our client to adapt to the uncertainties that are coming our way from the courts.


One of the directives, actually, from our court with this video conferencing is that the judges do expect practitioners to negotiate beforehand. They’re encouraging practitioners to file a minute of consent orders if possible beforehand because the same issue that we’re experiencing is that they’re only dealing with urgent matters. Is that similar there in England?


It certainly is, even down to directions hearings. The first hearing we have in a financial matter, the first appointment, a lot of them are being adjourned or being made into telephone hearings. In another case, it’s been a paper hearing only. I know I have had two experiences just in the last week of those first appointments. The encouragement from the court to actually negotiate as practitioners- and for our clients getting a house in order to try to agree things- has in both those cases, and I speak out totally, has worked. We’ve managed to actually on the first one, didn’t need any sort of judicial involvement where we might have before. Just the imperative to, actually, agree things has helped. On the second one, we are now just down to very narrow points going into the hearing which we have.

There has been an encouragement of that talking wildly as well and picking up on David’s point about the availability of counsel. Private FDRs have been growing in popularity. Just to explain, the FDR is the second hearing within the financial proceeding. In England, it’s set up as a court-led negotiation where the judge will give without prejudiced indication of the outcome.

Usually, it takes place within the court system, but with the current conditions, it’s really led to more privately-led FDRs with members of the bar being the judge on a private basis. The courts are encouraging other forms or alternative dispute resolution as well. So there has been an increase in that partly owing to the courts non-availability but also the availability of counsel.


I think another thing to gain which is worldwide is that we’ve all been aware of the huge risk of that and actually incident of domestic violence during this pandemic. I know courts around the world have responded in different ways. I see violence hearings are one of the priority hearings I was referring to but was huge amount of money which is the domestic violence helpline and this free travel which is quite an enormous central travel ban at these free travel on the trains, from our train companies, the people who are traveling to a refuge. I think around the world, and I’ve seen you producing your firm here, very good blocks which we read here in England on the issues of domestic violence and child protection, etc. But I think all of us here have been aware from about day two even if day one, our thoughts perhaps prepared to get ready. On day two, we say, “Hey, guys, what’s actually happening in that situation?” We will only know once we come out of it afloat. I think our government has responded again slowly. But it has responded and I know your government as well. I think that’s one of the key concerns children in care as well.


Of course. I wondered, through the nature of the client counsels that we seem to be giving at the moment are from people who are in self-isolation wanting to leave but getting  the feedback or have them visit– We’ve had to myth-bust a little bit. We’ve had to send out messages to our whole client list and out onto social media that the courts as to of writing, that if you’re at risk, if you’re a victim of domestic violence, that’s not acceptable at any time particularly at this time and that our police and our court systems are responsive. Unfortunately, I think that when lock down for us happened, a lot of our clients or potential clients were calling in but terrified thinking that there was almost no law and order. That if they had a police complaint, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. In fact, when we have urged our clients to take action and the action is to go to the police. The police have been incredibly responsive and sympathetic particularly when COVID-19 is being used as a form of family violence. So I wonder with your client, whether you’d had similar experience in England?


Generally, yes. I mean I don’t think the message is going out that the courts are closed. Contrary to that, that the courts are open and they should have been. No. I don’t think so. Stuart, I mean I don’t think we’ve picked up any hold back. I don’t think there’s been a problem with that.

Sally: I think it’s because, David, what happened is our county court which are now courts of jury trials were shut down immediately. I think that what happened with the lay people is that they assumed that the family court was also shut down. The headlines were just misinterpreted in that way. We were having to really point out that no. Our Chief Justice had put out a series of programs and actually interviews to say that the family court is still here. It’s virtual and particularly responding to people at risk.


Yes, that’s right. I think some of our clients have experienced some of their partners in children’s cases using COVID-19 as an excuse to prevent the other party having contact with children, because they’re in a profession where they come into contact with COVID-19 patients. There’s all sorts of different issues and excuses being made up by some clients if they want to try and gain an advantage because of COVID-19. I think our family code has recognized that and that was something that in the directive that they sent out. They said the courts are still open and we’re expecting parties to behave. We’re expecting parties to use common sense and basically not take advantage of the difficult situation. Is that something that you’ve experienced as well?


Well, picking up on that. And I think the term you used, Sally, was myth busting. What we have done for our clients and for that, generally, is to bust the myth that moving a child from one household to another for purposes of implementing travel arrangements whether through a court order or otherwise have agreed. It’s permitted. The shutdown and conditions in England are no non-essential travel. Some have, in the initial days, interpret that to mean that a movement of a child from one house to another is not essential and therefore should not take place. That is actually the procedure the family judge has said that that is permitted. Also picking up what you said, Keturah, is there’s also been some guidance to say, “Look. These are crisis conditions. Yes. You might have a child arrangements order setting out where the child should be at a certain time, but use common sense.” If that child has COVID contact with someone with COVID-19 or if the person to whom the child is supposed to be moving to at a point has COVID concern or COVID-19, that is a perfectly reasonable reason to divert from what is set out in the child arrangements.


Moving on from that point, but related, I think our practice, your practice, doing a lot of work in special families and we’ve got to look in the future about how we’re going to rearrange for the next 12 months. Contact or with parents whose children are abroad. We have many kinds, I know so do you, where the parents, one parent may have relocated  or they may simply be living in two different countries, separated parents. The conventional wisdom is that because they’re not seeing the children every other weekend or whatever, they see them for longer during school holidays. Now with international borders being closed or no air travel possible, they’ve not seen their children over Easter or half-term or possibly now the summer. Though I think together we are going to have to say, what are we actually going to do for these families to make sure that the good relationship between the non-residential parent or whatever phrase one wants to use that can actually be re-established? Of course, there’s digital technology, et cetera, but there’s no face to, nothing to associate face-to-face. You can’t Skype truckload. So how can we actually do that? I think as we look forward that’s one of the challenges as to how we’re going to restore, make-up, well possibly, but just restore the relationship on a face-to-face basis in the future.


Yes, and Stuart, did you have a point about that?

Stewart: Just picking up, it’s speculative, really, but my personal experience of some Zoom and Skype and other sorts of virtual meetings is on a personal level. It’s something I’ve adapted to quite quickly over the last sort of months so. I never thought it was a good substitute for face-to-face sort of meetings in terms of socially. But with everyone being sort of forced into it at the moment, it might change how it’s perceived within child arrangements and particularly for international child arrangements. It is no substitute for face-to-face, but maybe might grow as a more beneficial substitute. I speculate, of course.


Perhaps these children are being educated. That’s how they catch up with their friends. It becomes an accepted norm. That’s how they socialize and catch up. I’ve noticed its age and developmental issue. We’re going to be talking to Vince Papaleo in one of our next episodes or podcast about talking to children and how children are coping with COVID-19. I know he’s very much focused on the different developmental needs and behaviors of children. I’ve noticed with my own children that the younger one will be fully around and see it as a bit of fun but have a short attention span on Zoom as family catch-ups, but the teenager is far more adaptable because that’s how he’s catching up with his friends. I think that you’re right, David, we’re going to have to adapt to some sort of norm to be able to work with children’s specific ages and state of development too. I think for young children it’s going to be really difficult. I’ll be very interested to see what Vince recommends in our forthcoming interviews. He’s so knowledgeable about these things.

What about with property cases, have you noticed there is a reluctance for people to move forward or even deal with property settlement at all at the moment?


That’s in the area where we found the biggest drop-off. Stuart, do you want to say?


I think as with everyone and dealing with the financial markets and sort of global in sort of abstract terms, but also on the real terms, in terms of bricks and mortar, caution is being urged by us. Caution is being taken by our clients. This is a global health crisis first and foremost, but the knock-on effect which we’re even feeling during, and which is likely to continue for some time afterwards, is a global financial event or even as high as a global financial crisis. The volatility of investments, and when I say investments, I don’t mean just stocks particularly, I’d also say bricks-and-mortar as well. It’s volatile and we do not know what’s going to happen in the next three months, six months, 12 months. It’s very difficult to predict. We’re not financial planners or speculators as lawyers, of course. We wouldn’t want to give any advice to our clients about financial speculation. But we’ve had to be circumspect and say to our clients, discuss with our clients, is now the right time for you to be settling?  Do you want to take some time? We’re urging not to settle while it’s still uncertain. Some have actually chosen to settle during this time because they want to get rid of different sources and move on and they take the view that there’s uncertainty now but that uncertainty is likely to continue for some months, possibly even years. What’s going to change other than the fact that it’s going to be different forms of uncertainty. There has been some, as David said, some pulling back from dealing with financial matters, dealing with property matters at this time because of the uncertainty but not a fall off the cliff because some clients just want to get on with it. What we’re thinking at the moment and seeing is some sort of conditional settlements or settlements which are just quite speculative which don’t necessarily hammer as much detail as we otherwise would have had pre-COVID-19, rather than setting a figure within the settlements use of percentages. Simple mechanisms as that just to deal with the uncertainty. We don’t know what an investment will be worth in three months’ time or what property would work in three months’ time when it comes to be sold. Completion of property sales that are possible, it’s discouraged. It’s not completely prohibited under the lock down conditions in the UK, but it’s discouraged and a lot of people are obviously not wanting to go out to view properties. Again, that’s another thing that stands in the way of potential settlements or at least delay settlements which might have been agreed in February, March this year before the lock down.


I guess I’m speculating that I could imagine David and Stuart that as time goes on and you’re making decisions, say, next year about which jurisdiction is beneficial for your client to issue in, financially, that you’re going to be really thinking about how is that particular economy coping? What are the delays in various courts? We’re going to have to really keep up to date with what our fellow country or countries are doing, or common law countries are doing particularly, or code countries depending on who we’re opposed to. But when we’re making a decision about where to issue, is that something that I guess it’s so, it’s such early days now?


Sally, I totally agree. I think our international clients will want to know what’s the international court’s to bring, how are the laws are being applied? I think all of our leading jurisdictions have got to make sure we are geared up on some of these things. You’re absolutely right. Would it be helpful to go through, perhaps, where we think things may change as we come out of this?


Oh, that’d be great. Yes.


I know Stuart will add to this, but I’ve got sort of obvious areas with if I may say, write it.  I think the expectations of clients will now be different. In England, clients have got to attend all financial hearings. Th psychology being, they’re all part of it. Same is true for many children hearings. That’s just not needed on some hearings. They just will not be needed. Why travel halfway across a state or a country or indeed, inter-country to attend a hearing where it’s not actually vital and they can be in attendance by a screen in the corner? I think the solicitors, we’re going to have less meetings with clients. Again, we’ve all got used to dealing with our clients. Doctors haven’t seen a client, a patient for three weeks and neither have solicitors. It’s not perfect, but the economies for the client, is so so important. I think it will change the expectation of clients. We’ve got this enveloped.

As far as the courts are concerned, and I think there will be far more remote hearings, we’ve now gotten used to it, we’ve had to do it, et cetera. I think the challenge for us is family courts around the world is to have a discussion. When is it appropriate to have a remote hearing, a non face-to-face hearing in a family matter and when is it essential? Care cases, public more cases, yes. Domestic violence cases, yes. Perhaps, oral cross-examination doesn’t work so well through Zoom, but sometimes it may. Which of the hearings which are completely appropriate we ought to get on and still do it and I think that’s part of the consultation we’ve got to do. I think there will be a realization. We need less court centers in England. We have had a massive closure of court centers in the centralization of admin. It would be encouraged. So there will be less court buildings which are expensive state to maintain. So I think we’ll have more upper court, occasional courts, one form or another where there is like they used to be. These hundred years to build these sizes. For the judge as she goes out and has a number of hearings, et cetera.

So perversely, I think we will move it in that direction. I think we will go paperless. We’ve been wanting to go that way. Some countries I know, Malaysia is a country that has tried to go paperless. Singapore, Hong Kong, other leading jurisdictions have been going and leading the way, et cetera. I think we will go with electronic bundles. We’ve got used to it. We are introducing the software you have in Australia. So I think we will have much more paperless bundles. You got paperless bundles. You’re going to need less people at hearings at one point from there. They’ll be more online applications. I think it will separate out the law firms. There’s going to be a shifting of the sands, a sifting, et cetera. That’s a challenge for all of us as we come through to make sure we are able to cope with this. Where a law firm is going to be? As I say, less face-to-face client meetings. Why would they travel, I don’t know, even an hour to see us when they can actually have a face-to-face. So I think we’re going to have more video meetings and we already have a video suite in our office because so many of our clients are abroad. I can see many more law firms actually hearing themselves up to many more video meetings. If you do need the face-to-face, the telephone’s great but you do need to face-to-face, but do you need to face-to-face literally around the table? We’re going to need less office space. People have got used to remote working. It used to be the millennials, be careful what Stuart says. It used to be the millennials, “Oh, I want to work at home or I want flexible working.” People of my generation said, “No, we got to be collegiate, it’s the good thing about working together.” It’s been busted. Bluntly, I’ll say that as a non-millennial, it’s been busted. We don’t need to have that so much. We need less office space. The losers of the landlords in city centers. We will still be as many as the size of a firm but we won’t need so much office space because we won’t be there all together. We’ll be working more often in teams. In England, we can have a partial lock down. I think the partial lock down where people some come into work and some stay home, but actually, gather pace for that process, who is needed, and when.

From that, we’ll also lead to a different, I think, within the profession, I think we will need more paralegals as we go off to electronic bondings. I mean, Stuart’s been overseeing that in our practice. It’s hard work. Once you’re used to doing it, you’re very good at doing it. It’s not a job for a partner arguably not a job for a solicitor. So I think we’re going to see a difference in the way that was of the structure of who is needed in family law will be dealing with it.

Last of all, I’m going to come on to family life which may say it’s strange. It’s been a curious feature that will undoubtedly many families have had difficulties in isolation. Many people have actually found they’ve enjoyed being with their children, They’ve enjoyed educating their children.


It’s true.


They’ve enjoyed being with their spouse more often. They’ve enjoyed seeing their children other than eight o’clock in the evening when they get home from a long day at the office, et cetera. I just wonder what impact this will be on people of all generations when I say, “Hey, guys, I actually enjoy being with my family more often.” Some, of course, will say, “Hey, I got with you back to the office,” or whatever. But then, well, I think, undoubtedly, the service coming out of America is showing a lot of satisfaction with family life as a constant office. I think that there will be a greater call or a flexible home time working. I think, we as law firms, have been the worst. The long hour’s mentality in the office. I’m going to take away from the long hour’s mentality because that’s the nature of the demands of the work, et cetera, but the long hour’s mentality in the office, I think, is going to have to change. So just a few thoughts going forward. Stuart, speaking from your perspective?


Picking up on some of the, sort of, initial points about the great use of remote hearings and paperless working. With remote hearings, I think, as David said, we’re going to have an increase on them. It’s been shown over that in just a space of a few weeks that it is possible to deal with quite routine directions hearings, especially, and other hearings which might not necessitate actual everyone being in the courtroom, being in the court building. Picking up on that, I think what’s going to also develop is, and we’re starting to see this, is an industry stand for what technology is to be used. I spoke earlier about the frustration we had in not having uniformity across the courts and it’s been called in the guidance hand down as the smuggles board approach.  Essentially, whatever tech you have the judges will use, whether it’s Zoom, Skype for Business, Lifesize. We found though that’s been inconsistently applied. Perhaps some judges got a preference for one suite or over another. What is already developing is a preference for certain suites. The court is developing its own, sort of, bespoke suite as well. So what I think will come out of this, again, a part of the acceleration process is the court will, by the end of this lock down, have an actual preference which will then be the industry standard across lawyers. It might be that, hopefully, lawyers won’t sit on an island away from other professions in just using one particular suite. Hopefully, it will be across the board. I think that’s going to be because of the force acceleration of matters for using remote technology for video conferencing, there’s going to be an industry standard or at least some uniformity for that, but also for use of paperless bundles and e-filing. That there will be greater uniformity just being imposed owing to the conditions under lock down.


I think that’s very insightful both of your comments. I think in Australia, we’re also experiencing similar things. We’re probably in partial lock down because I’m actually at work today. Sally’s at home. Our office is partially remote and partially in the office. I think it does encourage flexible work practices. Certainly part-timers and lawyers with children benefiting with this. Yes, I think there are big changes coming and there are some silver linings that we can all look forward to in all of the tragedies and the problems that we have coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. You think so, Sally?


Absolutely. I think it was just in a similar fashion. We spent the first week of the lock down or stage three, as we call it, getting everybody remote, making sure that everyone was safe, and including our clients. I don’t think we’ve actually seen a client in the office for four weeks now. So we went straight to head out virtual policies straight away. It’s interesting that some people do prefer to still go in but I think that’s about only about 10% now. It’s only one or two lawyers who are going in now. Most people are actually remote but it does mean that we have to have regular huddles, that we do have to enforce team meetings, executive meetings, even they’re very quick to ensure that there’s efficiencies for clients. These efficiencies are going to be awesome when we can go back to the office. We’re all saying to each other, “Wow, we’ve discovered great ways.” Paperless is one thing too, fabulous for the environment and also just the efficient way we communicate with each other and deal with client matters. We’re feeling that we will be really taking over for our clients and for ourselves. Also for all those who do want to work from home, they’ve now had a taste of it. We know how to make it work. It would have been nice to not have had to been forced into it in such a dramatic fashion, but we really want to protect all our communities. I’m really hoping if we do have conferences like the World Congress, we will be looking at best practices. David you have been just so amazingly active. All real congress and family law on children’s rights that when we do convene in Singapore, perhaps a portion of our registrants will be virtual and we need to think about that as a paperless committee. And because borders still might be closed, we want to make sure that when we are running conferences that we have dynamic and virtual access given the situation and that will be a good thing too. Here to make sure the people remote regions can actually access the World Congress will be superb rather than running around trying to get government funding to bring people from developing countries over, which is still a great thing if we can actually help get people remote access that will be a wonderful form of sponsorship.


I know Diane Brian has done a wonderful job on the papers, who’s going to be asked speak, et cetera. But without adding to her burden, I think we now, for the World Congress, should be reviewing and having a thread throughout the conference to say, “How are we coping with the new normal?” and “How are we dealing with it in all the different sectors?” because one thing we do know is there will be second waves, possibly we got a bit third waves coming through to our jurisdictions. How will we help with that? The World Congress will be one of the first major family law international conferences after we all, hopefully by then, have come through this. I think we should be using that opportunity to say, “How are we now working?”, “How we now practicing in 2021 as we were not doing in 2019?”


Completely, and even if we made that a virtual symposium, and we’re so lucky to have members of IAFL and Law Asia all coming together, AFCC. You did mention if America’s still struggling in the way it is at the moment, I know a lot of those very active AFCC members would love to be able to attend and perhaps, if they can physically, fantastic. If they need to attend virtually, I’m sure we need to talk about accommodating that. Given that we’ve got such great support from the Australian Federal Police and they’re so involved in home securities, I’m sure that we’ll actually get some stellar support in making sure that we can actually bring this conference to all our partners as usual because looking at the best practices in July next year, I think will be vital for all of us.


If there’s any Australian law firm as part of concern during this particular time that involves the UK, of course, don’t hesitate to contact Stuart and I. We don’t practice in Europe, we don’t actually practice even in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but we cover northern UK. If we can help with any European connections, we would as always be delighted to help you in any way.


Yes, and we’d have to endorse that because you are amazingly generous, David. Whenever we need to find somebody anywhere in the world, not just in Europe, you’re incredibly connected and so generous with your time, really, our go-to for international family law. So thank you so so much for that. For both of you joining us, lovely to see your face, sort of shame the podcast can’t see your colorful shirt, David or Stuart’s smile but maybe in time with our budding filmmaker who will be editing the podcast, we’ll be able to see everybody shortly. But stay safe and thank you very very much. All the best to all your colleagues at the firm.


Thank you too.


Yes. Thank you so much.


Thank you for inviting us and thank you for the opportunity to exchange these ideas because I think, you spoke about how we might develop over the next year or so. I think it’s crucial across jurisdictions to share the ideas of how we’re all working.


Oh, completely. We’re looking at the international movement of children and child abduction. But also, there will be some property cases which really will need to hang on how about all the jurisdictions are going. So we’ll be great to keep up with it.


Useful links:

International Family Law Group: www.iflg.uk.com/

Kids Helpline: A free, private and confidential telephone counselling service – 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au/

Parent line: A state-wide counselling and support service for all Victorian parents – 13 22 89 or 1300 272 736

Safe Steps: A domestic violence hotline service for women and children – 1800 015 188 www.safesteps.org.au/

WIRE Helpline: A free support, referral, and information for all Victorian women (non-binary and gender diverse inclusive) – 1300 134 130 www.wire.org.au/

Relationship Space: An online program to help parents manage divorce – www.relationshipspace.com.au

Relationships Australia: www.relationships.org.au/


Disclaimer: Nicholes Family Lawyers intends the information provided in this podcast as general information only, please contact Nicholes Family lawyers if you require specific information and advise in relation to any family law matter.