This fact sheet provides information about the different types of experts working in the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The role of a family consultant is defined under sections 11 A-11F of the Family Law Act 1975 Cth (FLA). These functions include assisting and advising the Court, and parties, in relation to court proceedings. This is generally done by way of conducting an assessment, and providing a written document to the Court that takes the form of expert evidence in the proceedings. As such, a family consultant is considered to be an expert witness.
The work of family consultants is organised through the courts’ Child Dispute Services (CDS) and is fully funded by the Courts.
Family consultants are either:
employees of the Court who are appointed under the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976, or
private practitioners who have applied and been deemed suitable by Child Dispute Services to undertake the duties of a family consultant, and are appointed pursuant to Regulation 7 of the Family Law Regulations 1984.
Family consultants appointed under the regulations are colloquially referred to as ‘Reg 7s’ and are paid by the Court on a fee-for-service basis.
These Regulation 7 family consultants may also prepare private reports or reports for Legal Aid. When they do so they are not performing the role of a family consultant and therefore do not come under the governance of Child Dispute Services.
Selection criteria and performance
All family consultants must be registered psychologists, or social workers eligible for membership of Australian Association of Social Workers, and they must have a minimum of five years’ experience working with children and families.
Family consultants work within an extensive clinical governance framework, are subject to quality assurance mechanisms, and are required to participate in regular professional development and supervision.
The role of a family consultant
Family consultants conduct comprehensive assessments and prepare family reports on the order of the Court (s 62G FLA).
Family consultants also conduct preliminary assessments on the order of the Court (s 11F FLA). These preliminary assessments are provided to the courts by way of a memorandum and, on some occasions, by oral evidence in court. Preliminary assessments are generally conducted by a family consultant who is an employee of the Court.
Expert witnesses in family law proceedings can also include the following:
privately commissioned psychologists
privately commissioned social workers
property valuers, and
These types of privately commissioned experts may be appointed by an order of the Court (court appointed expert), or directly engaged by the parties to the case (private expert), and are funded by a party or the parties jointly.
If a private professional is asked to prepare a report for the Court on behalf of both parties, that professional may be referred to as a ‘single expert’.
In many matters, these privately commissioned experts are engaged to prepare a report that takes a similar form to a family report prepared by a family consultant.
In some states, the Legal Aid Commission may engage and fund an expert report writer following the appointment of an Independent Children’s Lawyer.
Expert evidence may also be submitted to the Court by a clinical professional who is providing therapeutic treatment to one of the parties or children. This type of expert evidence is not considered to be a family report.
The Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting, published by the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Western Australia, provides guidance to expert report writers, decision makers, agencies and legal professionals regarding the courts’ expectations in relation to family assessments and report writing. The CDS clinical governance framework is aligned with these Australian Standards.
As with all evidence, the evidence of experts (including family consultants) may or may not be relied upon in the courts’ determinative process.
The appropriate means of challenging expert evidence is through the Court process, e.g. by cross-examination.
For more information see the following publications available on the courts websites.
- Seeing a family consultant in the Federal Circuit Court
- Family Reports fact sheet
- Family Consultants fact sheet
- Australian Standards of Practice for Family Assessments and Reporting
For more information about the Federal Circuit Court:
- Go to www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au
- Live chat on the website
1300 352 000