What is considered an urgent application in Family Law?

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In the eye of the beholder

A browse of various dictionaries reveals that the word urgent means requiring immediate action. While few would doubt this definition, the practical application of the word is not as straightforward. Is something actually urgent, or just important, or extremely important? It rather depends upon the vantage point.

When it comes to applications before the Family Law arm of the Federal Court, it will be the Court that ultimately decides the status of urgent applications. That said, the Court considers every case on its merit, and while there is no one-size-fits-all template, it is also true that certain elements are given the highest priority.

First steps

A broken relationship brings with it myriad potential complications. It is quite possible for parties to arrive at their own solutions with regard to such things as parenting and financial agreements, and present these to the Court for official sanction in the form of consent orders. For whatever reason, it may also be the case that the parties may present their argument to the Court so that it will decide the outcome. However, the timeframe from initial application to court hearing can be several months, depending upon the workload of the Court.

Should either party believe that some element of the settlement needs to be addressed with urgency, then they may make an appropriate application for that increased priority. This request for urgency may be part of an initial application, or it may be sought at a later date – perhaps triggered by changed or escalating circumstances. If done later, it requires an affidavit and a covering letter, and it is highly recommended that professional legal advice is sought when formulating such an urgent application.

Urgent, extremely urgent, and ex parte

It is possible that financial matters will be such that urgency exists. This may be due to one party being, perhaps unnecessarily, in a situation of extreme hardship. Another possibility is that one party is deliberately and rapidly disposing of assets, leaving the other party fearful that by the time the matter is heard, there will be nothing left to apportion.

The highest priority is given to the physical and psychological safety of children, and also the personal safety of the applicant.

Some examples of urgency are:

  • where a child or parent is in immediate risk of physical or psychological harm
  • where a child has been abducted
  • where a party has geographically relocated with a child without consent and such action precludes access

This list is not exhaustive, and a great many possibilities exist where time is critical, and urgent action is called for. 

In cases of extreme urgency, it may be that an Ex parte Application is more appropriate, requesting that the Court deal with the matter immediately, without the other party being given notice.

A further example of extreme urgency may be where it becomes known that a parent intends leaving the country post-haste with a child. In such circumstances the Court has an after-hours emergency contact in place. This may be accessed by calling 1300 352 000, whereupon contact details will be provided.

It cannot be stressed enough that applications as described above, which by their very nature indicate an imperative for haste and accuracy to achieve their intent, are best served by obtaining professional legal advice from experienced Family Law solicitors.

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