This fact sheet provides information for people who have not reached an agreement about their child/ren, who are involved in a case in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and for whom the Court has ordered that a Child Inclusive Conference be conducted by a family consultant.
What is a Child Inclusive Conference?
A Child Inclusive Conference is a meeting with a family consultant that is ordered by the Court and includes the adults and children involved in the matter. Lawyers are not included. The conference is intended to give the Court an understanding of the family situation, and particularly of the child/ren’s experience. The conference can help the judicial officer hearing the case make short-term decisions about arrangements for the child/ren. It may also help the parties reach an agreement.
Who are family consultants?
Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists, with skill and experience in working with children and families. They are appointed by the Court to help parents and judges achieve the best outcomes for children. Family consultants are recognised as court experts in relation to children’s matters.
Is what I say to the family consultant confidential?
No. What is said to the family consultant is not confidential. All information gathered by the family consultant can be reported to the Court and is admissible in court.
How much does a Child Inclusive Conference cost?
A Child Inclusive Conference is ordered and provided by the Court. There is no cost to either party.
What happens after a Child Inclusive Conference is ordered?
You may be given a date for the conference when you are in court. Otherwise, you, or your lawyer (if you have one) will receive a letter or phone call from the Court advising you of the appointment time. You will be asked to confirm the appointment by calling the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.
Attending your appointment
The Court has ordered that you attend a Child Inclusive Conference—this means you must attend. If you do not attend, this may result in further delays and additional costs. Family consultants are obliged to tell the Court if you do not attend. Appointments can only be changed in exceptional circumstances. You should call the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000 if you have difficulties with the appointment time.
Important information about personal safety
If you have any concerns about your safety while attending court, or any appointment ordered by the Court, call the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000 before your court appointment or hearing. Options for your safety will be discussed. The Court takes allegations of violence very seriously and a safety plan will be put in place when the Court is aware of concerns. By law, people must inform a court if there is an existing or pending family violence order involving themselves or their children.
How is a Child Inclusive Conference different from a Family Report?
A Child Inclusive Conference is a preliminary and limited assessment, intended to assist the Court to make shorter term orders, and to decide on the best way for the matter to proceed.
A Family Report is a comprehensive assessment of the family situation, which assists the Court at a final hearing to make long-term orders for the child/ren.
The family consultant will conduct a series of interviews over a half day with you, the other party/s and the child/ren. These interviews are intended to give the family consultant an understanding of the issues in your case, any risks identified and what may be the best way forward. You are welcome to bring a support person for your own comfort, but they may not be interviewed. Other significant people, such as a new partner or grandparents, are also not usually interviewed.
Your child/ren will be interviewed separately from any adults. The child/ren will be given an opportunity to express their views and wishes, but no child will be expected to do so. Generally observations of children with either party are not conducted, but this may occur in certain circumstances.
Where possible, children are supervised by qualified child care staff in a secure area. This is to ensure that they are in a neutral environment and not exposed to possible adult conflict in the open areas of the Court. You should confirm availability of child care before attending your appointment. Where this service is not available, you may be required to bring someone who can look after the child/ren for you.
What documents do I need to provide for the Child Inclusive Conference?
The family consultant has access to all documents filed by both parties. You do not need to bring any other documents to the conference. The family consultant will focus on issues such as:
- risk factors
- the ability of parents to work together, and any possibilities for negotiation
- the child/ren’s experience of the family situation, and
- the child/ren’s developmental needs.
What information will the family consultant give the Court?
At the end of the conference the family consultant will prepare a brief document called a Memorandum to Court. This document contains the family consultant’s assessment of your situation, focusing on the child/ren’s needs. The Memorandum will also include advice to the Court about what arrangements or processes are most likely to help the Court decide on the next steps, and what arrangements may best meet your child/ren’s care, welfare and developmental needs in the short-term.
When will I receive a copy of the Memorandum?
You or your lawyer (if you have one), will receive a copy of the Memorandum before the next hearing. It is possible (and not uncommon) for matters to settle based on what is contained in the Memorandum. If you are able to reach an agreement and submit signed consent orders to the Court you may not have to come back to Court. The Court encourages this and will provide assistance if you need it. Please inform the Court immediately (if you have a lawyer they can do this for you) if you reach an agreement outside of court.
The Memorandum is admissible in court as evidence in your matter. It cannot be shown to anyone other than the party/s to the matter and their legal representatives. It cannot be shown to other people, such as other family members, without the Court’s permission. This is the case even for people who may have been interviewed, but are not a party to the matter.
It is an offence, under s121 of the Family Law Act 1975, to publish or disseminate to the public, or a section of the public, any part of proceedings under the Act that identifies a party, a witness, or certain other persons.
What if I don’t agree with the Memorandum?
The Court considers a range of information when making decisions about your matter. The Court is not bound by any advice given by the family consultant. As with any evidence, the appropriate place for challenging the preliminary assessment is the Court itself. You should raise your concerns with your lawyer if you have one, or in court if you do not.
What if I have a complaint about the family consultant?
If your case is in the Family Court of Australia refer to the Family Court of Australia Feedback and Complaints Policy at www.familycourt.gov.au
If your case is in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia refer to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Complaints Policy at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au
You should also discuss your concerns with your lawyer.