The first time you go to court to discuss the issues between you and your estranged partner, the judicial officer will try to help you both sort out your differences and find solutions to your conflicts.
Sometimes, a solution can be found immediately. If not, you may be referred to a family consultant or other family services. A family consultant is a representative of the court who can work with both parties to find an agreement regarding the children. If an agreement can’t be reached among the parties, the consultant will submit a report to the court that details the results of their assessment of the family issues, often including an opinion of the child’s views in the matter.
The report is based on the findings from the “Child Responsive Program” which entails a series of sessions, some with the consultant and the entire family, some with each parent and the consultant, and some with both parents, their attorneys, and the consultant. Anything you say to a family consultant can be included in the report and used as evidence in your case. You are required to meet with the consultant, and can face serious repercussions for missed appointments.
If there is still not a resolution in the case, another hearing is held. The court can order many things at this hearing, including the completion of parenting questionnaires by both parents, a date for a compliance check, or the appointment of an independent children’s lawyer. Even without a court order, an independent children’s lawyer can be used when requested by the child, either parent, or any other person or organization worried about the child.
They are appointed for a number of reasons, for instance when a separation of siblings is a possibility, the child does not seem close with either parents, child abuse is alleged, or there are cultural issues affecting the child. The independent children’s lawyer needs to assess what is best for the child and make suggestions to the court based on that assessment.