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The Impact of a Pandemic on Support Services for Family Law Clients

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By Amanda Graham, Principal, MST Lawyers

A boom in family law proceedings, and domestic violence matters, is anticipated as a result of the lockdown imposed on Australian residents. In a pressure cooker environment couples are spending more time together while under the stress of home schooling, loss of employment and resulting loss of income. For families already separated and subject to orders in the family courts the pressure has only increased.

With the instigation of lockdown came the cancellation of parenting and family violence programs which are commonly ordered by a court in the family law system. Cancellation of programs such as the Mens Behaviour Change Program resulted in a parent’s ability to spend time with their child being significantly affected where their time is predicated on completion of such program. Parents who were in the middle of a program did not have the opportunity to continue with it as the programs are group based and do not transfer into an online format.

Parents who have orders to spend time with their children under supervision at a supervised contact service found that many of the supervision services closed their doors. Where a parent could only spend time with their child in a supervised environment this has meant they have spent no time with their child since lockdown, and a wait for the return of the service to be able to recommence their relationship with their child.

Parents who have been lucky enough to engage the services of the few contact services which supervise parents’ time with a child in a public place found limited venues available for them to spend time with their child under supervision. Libraries, child play centres, shopping centres…closed.

While the support services retracted the Family and Federal Circuit Courts adapted quickly to an online court environment and proceedings continued. Orders for parents to attend programs or spend supervised time with their children became orders which provided for to this to happen “when available”.

With the lifting of restrictions programs are slowly being reinstated and supervised contact services are now becoming more available. However, the waiting lists are long. Unfortunately even with the best intentions it will be some time before the backlog is dealt with and parents requiring the support of these services will find them readily available.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this article or about family law more generally, please feel free to get in contact with Amanda Graham.