The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating impacts on our society and can make the process of going through a separation even more difficult.
PARENTING AND CHILDREN
All decisions about the long and short-term care of children must focus on the best interests of the children as the main priority.
While the family Courts remain open their capacity to deal with family law matters has been limited. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Family Court to release a Media Release focusing parents on ensuring that all decisions at this difficult time are made in the best interests of their children. Factors parents should focus on include:
- Always act in the best interests of your children and ensure your children’s safety and wellbeing.
- Parents are expected to continue to comply with Court orders.
- If strict compliance is not possible due to closures and restrictions, communicate with each other and attempt to find a practical solution.
- The risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should be considered.
- Any new or short-term agreement should be recorded in writing by using Consent Orders, a parenting plan or by informal means (i.e. email, text message or WhatsApp).
- Consent Orders can still be filed with the Court.
- If parents are unable to agree to vary an arrangement, an application can still be made to the Court.
- If there is no agreement, parents should keep children safe until the dispute can be resolved and ensure that the children still have some safe contact with the other parent.
- To act reasonably, or to have a reasonable excuse for not complying with Court orders, is a matter that is considered by the Court.
- If you or your child is in immediate danger, please contact your local police and seek medical advice if required.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted upon property settlements. Some of the main impacts include:
- The value of assets and liabilities may have been impacted, updated financial disclosure may be required.
- Since 20 February 2020 the ASX 200 has dropped by 28%, this will have a significant impact on the value of listed shares and superannuation funds. Where the value of assets continues to be fluid, percentage adjustments rather than fixed base amounts may be preferable at this time.
- If corporate valuations have been undertaken, they may need to be updated to reflect changes in staffing arrangements, changing cashflow and profit/loss and forced shutdowns.
- Entire industries have been impacted, forced closures have already impacted industries such as tourism, hospitality, import/export markets, manufacturing and retail. While most industries are seeing a negative impact, certain industries will see an increase in growth due to increasing demand.
- A failure to disclose relevant information may be grounds to set aside any agreement reached.
- Involving a trustee in bankruptcy and/or insolvency issues may become a relevant factor.
- Changing employment conditions and unemployment will be a relevant factor when assessing each party’s earning capacity. This may also be relevant for reassessments for child support and/or spousal maintenance.
- The availability to obtain finance will be impacted, ensuring that Orders provide appropriate flexibility for payments depending on cashflow or alternatively ensuring that appropriate default sale orders are included are essential.
- A delay may be required where uncertainty is significant.
Parties can still mediate their differences through lawyers and through electronic mediation services during these restricted times.
The law requires separating families who have a dispute about children to attend mediation before filing an application for parenting orders in court (some exceptions apply such circumstances involving family violence, child abuse or urgency)
Where court resources are limited, mediation or arbitration can be helpful alternatives.
If you have proceedings currently before the Court, appropriate arrangements are being made. As a consequence of COVID-19, non-urgent matters are being vacated and the use of telephone and AVL procedures are being utilised. Where in person appearances are required, social distancing practices are being implemented.
HOW WE CAN HELP
This is a difficult time people experiencing a separation. Baker Love Lawyers remains open and will be contactable to provide ongoing advice when required. It is essential now more than ever that you have an accredited specialist in family law assisting you with your family law matter. If you require any assistance please contact our firm to arrange a conference with Matthew Carney, an accredited specialist in family law on (02) 4944 3322.