Royal Decree-Law 16/2020, of April 28, on procedural and organizational measures to confront COVID-19 in the area of the Administration of Justice, to which we have already referred in previous articles, in its Chapter I, "Urgent procedural measures” regulates the scope of a special and abbreviated procedure in family law.

We will limit ourselves to this procedure in this article.

1.- Temporal scope of application of this procedure

During the term of the state of alert and up to three months after its termination.

2.- Objective scope of application of this procedure

The following claims will be processed through this procedure:

a) Those that deal with claims relating to restoring the balance of in-person visits for the visitation schedule or joint custody when one of the parents has not been able to comply with the fixed schedule in strict terms and, as the case may be, the existing joint custody, as a consequence of the measures taken by the Government and the other health authorities in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

b) Those whose purpose is to request the review of the definitive measures on marriage expenses, spousal maintenance and child maintenance, adopted in application of the provisions of article 774 of the Civil Procedure Law, when the review is based on the economic circumstances of spouses and parents having substantially changed as a consequence of the health crisis caused by COVID-19.

c) Those that seek to establish or to review the obligation to provide maintenance, when such claims are based on the economic circumstances having substantially changed of the relative obligated to provide said support as a consequence of the health crisis caused by COVID-19.

3.- Competent judicial organ to deal with these procedures

1) In the case of letters a) and b) indicated in section 2 above, it will be the court that had already ruled on the visitation schedule or joint custody where restoring the balance is called for or that had agreed on the definitive measures which are sought to be reviewed.

2) Will be competent to deal with the procedure provided in paragraph c) of section 2 above:

– The first instance court in the place of the last shared residence of the parents or, if the parents reside in different judicial districts, that of the residence of the defendant or the minor, at the choice of the plaintiff, in the case of establishing the provision of child support claimed by one parent against the other on behalf of the dependent children.

– The court is competent by virtue of the application of the general rules of article 50 of the Civil Procedure Law, when it concerns the provision of maintenance in favour of any other beneficiary.

– When the claim concerns the review of the provision of maintenance, the court that had already resolved the claim in its day will be the competent judicial organ.

4.- Processing

The procedure begins with the claim, which must be accompanied by documentary evidence, in the cases envisaged in paragraphs b) and c) of section 2 above, which prove status of economic vulnerability derived from the measures adopted as a result of the pandemic.
Once the claim is admitted for processing, the Court Clerk will agree to summon the parties and the Public Prosecutor to a hearing, which must be held within ten business days following the date of admission of the claim.

Prior to the hearing, the parties may try to reach an agreement, which will be approved by court, but will always take into account the best interests of the minor.

Likewise, prior to holding the hearing, in the proceedings initiated by the claim referred to in paragraph a) of section 2 above, dependent children will be heard in a reserved way if the court considers it necessary and, in any event, for those older than twelve years.
At the hearing, the plaintiff will confirm his initial claim and may expand it without making substantial changes. The defendant will then answer it and may make a counterclaim. The court can be petitioned for evidence to be taken.

Once the evidence is given at the hearing, the parties may be given their turn to speak in order to present their conclusions orally. After the hearing, the judicial organ may issue a judgement in the form of a ruling or court order, orally or in writing within three business days. An appeal may be filed against the judgement that ends the procedure, unless both parties have stated their decision not to appeal, in which case the judgement will be declared definite.

Originally published 4 May, 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.