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Paula Phelan is a Family Lawyer with Specialist Accreditation in this area from the Queensland Law Society. She has been a lawyer for 24 years and is the director of Phelan Family Law, a Rockhampton legal firm specialising in Family Law only.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has set off a wave of unprecedented events on many areas including family law. A relationship breakdown is difficult and uncertain as it is without a global pandemic going on in the background.

Whether you have separated recently during the pandemic or have previously started proceedings in the family courts, it is difficult to know where you stand and how you can effectively financially separate from your partner or resolve parenting disputes.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court recognise the importance of continuing to provide assistance to Australian families and as such have remained open with added structural changes.

The Courts currently have a restricted amount of staff working and have transferred all court appearances to being conducted over the phone. There is no need to attend the registry in person to file documents as all material to be relied upon can be filed online.

At this time, the family courts remain open and are keeping cases moving along.

The Court is not the only option available to settle parenting or property disputes between separated couples. There are a range of alternative dispute resolution methods that can be a quicker and cheaper option. The main two being mediation and arbitration, which are becoming increasingly popular as they can be done electronically.

Mediation is very different to the court system. It requires both parties to actively engage in resolving a dispute with the assistance of a mediator. The mediator assists the parties in identifying options and negotiating an agreement between themselves.

Whilst many people can be quite resistant to the idea of negotiating with the ex-partner, mediation is one of the most successful forms of dispute resolution. It is quite empowering to reach an agreement that is suitable for both yourself and your ex without a third party making those choices for you.

Arbitration is a similar process to the court system. The arbitrator is generally a retired judge or an experienced barrister who, after hearing both sides of a dispute, hands down a judgment referred to as an ‘award’. Awards are binding, final and can only be overturned by the court system if there is an error of law.

Arbitration gives the parties the opportunity to choose the arbitrator themselves and offers a faster solution to a dispute that is binding on the parties. This is becoming an alternative to going to Court.

During the current circumstances, speaking to a family lawyer may help you to resolve your dispute sooner rather than later.

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