10 family law tips in a continuing coronavirus pandemic

In these uncertain times when your personal, study and working life has drastically changed, the legal advice and assistance which you need is much different to your needs 12 months ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted longer than everyone expected and hoped, the challenges have become greater.

This is a list of 10 things it may be helpful for you to know:

1. Courts:- As anticipated, the Family Law Courts in Victoria have physically closed for face-to-face hearings due to the Stage 4 Restrictions until at least 13 September 2020, but all hearings in Victoria and most hearings in other States and Territories continue to be held electronically by telephone or on Teams. The courts have published guidelines and protocols to ensure that parties have their disputes dealt with despite the restraints of the pandemic. A COVID list has been established to enable the courts to urgently deal with parenting disputes directly arising from the pandemic. Affidavits are being accepted by the courts without being sworn or affirmed.

2. Alternate Dispute Resolution:- You should, where appropriate, try to settle your case through negotiation, family dispute resolution, mediation or arbitration and not rely on the already under-resourced courts being able to hear your case promptly. Settling out of court is always sensible, but even more so now. All forms of alternative dispute resolution are being delivered successfully by video-conferencing.

3. Parenting time:- Parenting orders were made without pandemics in mind and they may not fit the changed circumstances. There may be reasons why it may be in the best interests of a child for time with a parent not to occur, such as the parent having a COVID test as a result of being a close contact to a confirmed case, but make-up time should be offered. Interstate and international travel has been impacted. Pragmatic solutions and compromises need to be devised so that children can continue to spend time with or communicate with their parents where it is in their best interests to do so.

4. Breaching parenting orders:- You may be held in contravention of a court order if you do not have a reasonable excuse for breaching a court order. The Family Law Courts have provided guidance to interpreting parenting orders in the pandemic. The State and Commonwealth Governments have declared exceptions even under Stage 4 Restrictions to ensure that children can still see both parents. Please speak to us before breaching a parenting order. The courts treat breaches very seriously, even during a pandemic.

5. Family violence:- Couples are spending more time together and are more anxious, so family violence is increasing. You should be alert to this and seek appropriate referrals for police, therapeutic and other assistance. The Stage 4 Restrictions in Victoria include a family violence exception. You can leave home if there is family violence and you are at risk. Call 000 if you are in danger. More information is available from:

6. Intervention orders:- These are still being enforced. The process for applying for the orders has changed and you can now apply online.

7. Child support and spousal maintenance:- There may be grounds to seek an increase or decrease of child support if you have no work, have been made redundant or otherwise have a reduced income. DHHS – Child Support may be able to assist or you may need to speak to us. Whilst earlier in the pandemic it seemed unlikely that a binding child support agreement could be set aside for loss of employment, it is now easier because the ongoing pandemic helps to satisfy the requirement for “exceptional circumstances”.

8. Property settlements:- Negotiating a property settlement may take longer because of the uncertainty of values of real estate and businesses. You or your former partner may have concerns about employment and housing, and may therefore not be focussed on finalising your property settlement dispute. You may find that re-financing a mortgage may take longer.

9. Business and real estate valuations:- You should consider the pros and cons of putting these on hold as they may not provide reliable figures. Many businesses have been adversely affected by reduced demand, forced closures and the like. A valuation that takes into account the 2018/2019 financial year but not the 2019/2020 financial year may wildly over-state value. Business valuers are often providing limited scope valuations which may not be as useful although the cost is similar. The impact of the pandemic on real estate values is difficult to assess as very few properties are being listed for sale in Victoria. 

10. Anxiety, stress and depression:- In times like these where there is uncertainty about personal health, employment, family well-being and the purchase of essentials such as food, medication and housing, you and your former partner are likely to be more anxious and stressed than usual, making it harder to reach agreement. One or both of you may be suffering from depression and need medical assistance. There has been a general decline in mental health in the community and separated families face extra pressures. Try to see your former partner’s perspective, recognise the pressures they are under as well as the pressures on your children, and be proactive in accessing therapeutic help individually or as a couple or family.

August 2020