Disputes between separated parents over their children’s immunizations are increasingly filling the family court’s COVID-19 priority list.
Litigation involving childhood immunizations is increasingly filling Australia’s Family Court’s COVID-19 priority list.
The list was created in April 2020 to handle urgent family law disputes arising from the pandemic and was expanded a year ago to help deal with delays in accessing court.
Provided they meet the criteria, people with family court cases can apply to be put on the list and if deemed urgent, their court date can be accelerated.
A spokesperson for the family court told the Sydney Morning Herald that the court has recently seen an increasing number of claims related to the vaccination.
Most relate to disputes over childhood immunizations, but there have also been instances where one parent has prevented the other from accessing a child because the parent is not immunized.
Spread the latest news on COVID-19 with Flash. Stream over 20 global and local news sources. New to Flash? Try 14 days for free now
Under Section 60CA of Australia’s Family Law Act, the court must make the best interests of the child its primary consideration when deciding on a particular parenting order.
Parents can use this principle to oppose or make an argument for immunization or vaccination.
Along with vaccination, other family disputes linked to the pandemic include cross-border travel – national and international – and the suspension or resumption of parenting orders after a parent tests positive for COVID-19.
Other issues included situations in which a parent or child had to self-isolate and requests for suspension or resumption of time following concerns about exposure to the virus.
The creation of the list by the family court was welcomed by the President of the Law Council of Australia, Dr Jacoba Brasch, QC.
“The establishment of the COVID-19 list to process any urgent request filed as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular those involving family violence, is a good example of this reactivity of the family court”, a she declared.
Australian Federal Circuit and Family Court Chief Justice Will Alstergren said the list – a world first – demonstrated that courts can be innovative and improve access to justice through adoption of new technologies.
“Our courts have a responsibility to provide the best possible service with the resources available.
This includes reaping the benefits of a rapid digital transformation to improve access to justice, ”he said.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that only around 3% of separated parents use the courts as their primary avenue for making parenting arrangements.
This group is primarily made up of families affected by family violence, child safety issues and a range of other complex issues.