Coronavirus and the Law

Coronavirus and the Law

COVID-19 Family Law and FAQs

Family violence and protection orders

Can I leave my home and get help during alert level 4 if my partner is being violent?

Yes – the rules under alert levels 4 about staying in your bubble don’t apply if you’re in danger from family violence. You have the right to be safe, so you can leave and get help from a neighbour or friend. You can also call the police on 111.

Women’s Refuges are still operating. You can find contact details and practical advice for staying safe on the Women’s Refuge website. You can also click here for a list of other family violence helplines.

Family violence and sexual violence support services are essential services and so they’re still available during the pandemic, although these services may need to be delivered in different ways.

If you think someone else could be harmed through family violence or might harm themselves, call the police on 111, even if you’re not sure.

Can I get protection from the courts against family violence during the pandemic?

Yes – the courts are still dealing with applications for protection orders as a priority. This includes both urgent applications for temporary protection orders (called “without notice” applications), and applications for permanent protection orders.

Your lawyer and the judge will probably deal with the case over the phone or electronically, and you won’t need to come to court unless the court staff or your lawyer asks you to.

For more information about applying for a protection order, click here.

Shared day-to-day care and other co-parenting issues

I have shared care of my child under a Family Court parenting order – what happens to our arrangement during COVID-19?

Different rules apply depending on what alert level applies in your region:

Within an alert level 2 region, children can move between homes for parenting arrangements. There is no requirement that the homes are in the same or neighbouring territorial authorities.

Within an alert level 4 region, children can move between two homes under a shared care arrangement if the following requirements are met:

  • the two homes are a shared bubble – only two homes can make up a shared bubble; and
  • the two homes must be in the same region or neighbouring regions– you can access maps showing the region boundaries here.

If your child’s family group or whānau has one home in an alert Level 2 area and another home in an alert Level 4 area, children can move between regions under a shared parenting arrangement, as long as the alert level 4 requirements are followed (see above).

However, you should still travel only as much as is necessary. While you’re travelling it is a good idea to keep a copy of the parenting order or agreed parenting arrangement with you, to help explain your travel if the police stop you.

The Family Court’s guidelines have made it very clear that parents must put aside their conflicts during this time and make decisions that are in the best interests of the child, their families and the wider community. The COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t be used as a chance for one parent to change the established care arrangements without good reason or to act in a way that’s not in the child’s best interests.

The other parent wants to have contact with our children by phone, social media or Skype – are they entitled to this?

If a child can’t see one of their parents for a time during the COVID-19 crisis (for example, because the parent is unwell), the Family Court encourages letting the child have as much contact with the other parent as possible by other means – such as by phone, Skype, Facetime or other social media apps.

Our care arrangements involve a third household, because my ex-partner also has stepchildren who sometimes stay at another place – is this allowed under COVID‑19?

Within an alert level 2 region, yes. Children may move between homes for parenting arrangements. There is no requirement that the shared bubble can only be made up of 2 homes.

If one or both homes are in an alert level 4 region, a shared bubble can only include two households. This means that if your ex-partner’s place is also connected to a third household, then you and your ex need to agree that the child would stay with one of you only.

My ex-partner and I can’t agree on how to manage the parenting arrangements – will the Family Court hear the case?

The Family Court will consider genuinely urgent cases. You can make an urgent application to the Family Court in the normal way. There are judges on hand to deal with this remotely.

Lawyers are still working during the lockdown and may be able to assist you. You can get in touch with your local Community Law Centre for free legal advice via the phone– click here for contact details.

The Family Court is encouraging parents to set aside their differences as far as possible and find workable solutions that keep children and caregivers safe, without the courts needing to get involved.

We were doing Family Dispute Resolution before COVID-19 – is that continuing?

These services are still available but the way the service is delivered will have changed during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of these services may be being delivered online or by phone.

I’ve lost some of my income – how will this affect my child support payments to my ex-partner?

If your income has reduced, you should tell Inland Revenue so they can recalculate the amount of child support you have to pay.  If you’re having trouble making child support payments by the due date, contact IRD’s child support staff as soon as possible.

For information about child support assessments, click here.

Using the Family Court and getting legal advice

I’ve got a Family Court hearing that was supposed to be coming up – will it still go ahead?

Currently, the Family Court is dealing with certain types of “priority” cases (see below), like family violence cases and urgent applications for parenting orders first.

Most of these priority cases can be dealt with by your lawyer and the judge over the phone or electronically, and you might not need to go in to the Family Court in person unless the court staff or your lawyer asks you to.

Priority cases in the Family Court include the following:

  • applications for family violence protection orders (including both urgent applications for temporary protection orders and applications for permanent protection orders)
  • urgent (“without notice”) applications for changes to parenting orders, or applications that involve family violence
  • urgent (“without notice”) applications for immediate uplifts of children by Oranga Tamariki
  • urgent (“without notice”) applications to deal with relationship property
  • urgent (“without notice”) applications under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act for people who aren’t able to make decisions for themselves
  • applications for compulsory treatment orders in mental health cases
  • applications for return of children in international abduction cases (Hague Convention cases)
  • Public Health Order applications
  • applications under the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act.

Cases that aren’t in that list of “priority” cases will usually be rescheduled to the next available date and will be dealt with as soon as possible. However, the court’s ability to deal with non-priority cases will depend on staff levels and the requirement to observe physical distancing.

If you’re not sure whether your court case is going ahead, get in touch with your lawyer. If you’re representing yourself and don’t have a lawyer, contact the Family Court for information.

Lawyers will still be able to provide advice remotely during the lockdown.

Legal aid will still be available. For more information about legal aid, click here.

You can also get in touch with your local Community Law Centre – click here for contact details.

Getting divorced: Dissolution of marriage

Can I apply to dissolve my marriage during the Covid-19 crisis?

During alert levels 4, the Family Court is dealing with what it calls “priority” cases first, such as family violence protection orders and urgent applications for parenting orders.

Under alert level 2, the Family Court will deal with non-priority cases including applications for dissolution of marriages or civil unions. However, the court’s ability to deal with non-priority cases will depend on staff levels and the requirement to observe physical distancing.

If you are currently unable to apply for a dissolution of marriage or civil union, it will still be important for you to write down the date on which you separated, because this will be relevant for later on when you do apply for a dissolution.

Most people usually record the date of separation as the date when one person moves out of the home. However, if you continue living together because of the COVID-19 restrictions, the two of you can agree on a date of separation that’s during this time.

Click here for information about applying for a dissolution.

Making a will

How do I organise making a will under COVID-19?

You can still make a will during the different Alert Levels. First, contact a lawyer to help you draft it. Once you’ve written up your will, the signing and witnessing can, if necessary, be done remotely by audio-visual link, using Zoom or Skype for example.

The usual rules are that in order to be valid, your will must be signed at the end of it by you (or someone you instruct to sign on your behalf) and by two witnesses, with you all being present together, and with you all seeing each other sign.

The law has been changed temporarily to allow all this to happen remotely if need be. This means you can instruct someone else who’s in a different place to sign a copy of your will, with you instructing and watching them by audio-visual link. If your witnesses are in a different place or places from you, they can also witness your signing of the will by audio-visual link.

Click here for more details about making a will during the COVID-19 crisis.

Welfare guardianship and other orders under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act

Someone close to me can’t make decisions for themselves anymore – can I go to the courts for help?

If someone in your life isn’t able to look after their own affairs, during the COVID-19 pandemic you can still apply to the Family Court for some urgent temporary orders under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act.

For more details about the “priority” work that the Family Court is focusing on during the COVID-19 crisis, contact the Family Court.

For general information about property orders, welfare guardianship, and other orders under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act, click here.

 

 

 

Last updated:10 September 2021

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Check out Frequently Asked Questions and Answers related to COVID-19 on our website here.

Community Law Centres across Aotearoa are operating remotely. Please contact them via the phone number or email displayed on the Centre’s page.

Find the contact details of your nearest Community Law Centre here.

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