A Child Inclusive Conference is a meeting with a family consultant, the adults and the children involved in the matter. The Court orders the meeting. Lawyers are not included. If you don’t know what to expect, you might be anxious and apprehensive about the process.
The reason for the meeting is to provide the Court with an understanding of the family’s circumstances. The focus is on the children’s experience of the situation. The outcome of the conference can assist the judicial officer hearing the matter to make short-term decisions about arrangements for the children. It may even help all the parties involved to reach an agreement.
Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists, with experience and the skills to work with children and families. They have extensive knowledge in this field and the courts recognize them as expert witnesses to assist the parents and the judge to reach the best outcome for the children.
No, whatever you say to the family consultant is not confidential. The purpose of the conference is to gather information. All the information is admissible in court and the family consultant can report it to the Court.
There is no cost to either of the parties. The Court orders the conference.
You may be given a date for the conference in Court, or you (or your lawyer) will be notified of the date and time by letter or a phone call from the Court. You have to confirm the appointment by calling the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.
Yes, the Court ordered that you attend the conference. Failure to attend will lead to further delays and extra costs. If you do not attend the conference the family consultant must inform the Court.
If you have a problem to attend the conference you must call the National Enquiry Centre. Appointments can be changed, but only in exceptional circumstances.
The Court takes allegations of violence or threats of violence very seriously. The Court will ensure that a safety plan is put in place if they are aware of any concerns. If you are concerned about your personal safety or the safety of your children while attending court, or any court-ordered appointments, you can call the National Enquiry Centre.
It is important to remember that you must, by law, inform a court if there is a pending or existing family violence order involving yourself or your children.
No, it is not the same. A Family Report is a comprehensive assessment of the family situation. It assists the Court at the final hearing to make long-term orders for the children.
A Child Inclusive Conference is a preliminary and limited assessment. It assists the Court to make short-term orders and decisions about the best way to proceed with your matter.
You, the other party/s and the children will all be interviewed. You can take a support person with you, but they may not be interviewed. New partners, grandparents or other significant people are also usually not interviewed.
The purpose of the interviews is to give the family consultant an understanding of the issues in your matter, to identify any risks and to get an idea of what will be the best way forward.
The children will be interviewed separately from the adults. No child is expected to express their views, but they will be given an opportunity to share their views and wishes. Usually general observations of the children with either party are not conducted, but it may happen in certain situations.
The series of interviews will take more than half a day.
Where possible, qualified childcare staff will supervise children in a secure area. This is to ensure that they are not exposed to possible conflict between the adults and to keep them in a neutral environment.
Take note: This service is not available everywhere. You should confirm if it is available before you arrive for your appointment. If the service is not available, you may be asked to bring someone who can look after your children.
No, you do not need to take any documents to the conference. The family consultant has access to all the documents filed in the matter.
The family consultant will focus on issues such as:
After completion of the conference the family consultant will prepare a Memorandum to Court. This is a brief document that will include the consultant’s assessment of your family situation, focusing on the children’s needs. The Memorandum will also include advice to the Court about what arrangements or proceedings will likely assist the Court to decide on the next steps, and what arrangements will be best for the children’s care, developmental needs and welfare in the short-term.
Yes, you, or your lawyer, will receive a copy before the next hearing. Often matters are settled based on the information and recommendations in the Memorandum.
You and your partner can reach an agreement and submit signed consent orders to the Court. You may not have to return to Court in such a case. The Court encourages parties to reach agreements and will assist as far as possible. You need to inform the Court immediately if you are able to reach an agreement outside of court.
No, you cannot show it to anyone other than the parties to your matter and their legal representatives. The Memorandum is admissible as evidence in Court. You cannot show it to family members or other people without the Court’s permission. This applies even to people who might have been interviewed, but are not a party to the matter.
Take note: S121 of the Family Law Act 1975 makes it an offence 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.
You can raise any concerns with your lawyer, if you have one, and you can challenge the preliminary assessment in Court. The Court is not bound by the advice or recommendations of the family consultant. The Court will listen to you and consider all the evidence and a range of information before making a decision. The appropriate place to challenge the Memorandum is therefor in Court when the Court is considering your matter.
The Court Policies provide a mechanism to lodge complaints against your family consultant.
You will find the information on how to do this in the Family Court of Australia Feedback and Complaints Policy at www.familycourt.gov.au or in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Complaints Policy at www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au.
Discuss any concerns or complaints with your lawyer. He/she will be able to advise you on the best action to take.