It is so easy to interchange family consultant with family counsellor. After all, both are indispensable to the resolution of family law cases. Both assist the court and have the same qualifications. However, there are some differences as to their functions and duties.
Basically their purpose in family law is the same. They are to help the courts in resolving the family dispute of parties in the easiest and most efficient way. Even after court orders are issued they are also useful in seeing to it that these orders are carried through. Their qualifications are also the same. Family consultants and counsellors may be psychologists, psychiatrists or social workers who have studied and trained in child and family law issues.
As their name implies, family consultants are the persons who can make suggestions and advise the court on how to resolve a case. They are usually tasked to make family reports. There is no confidentiality with consultants because everything will have to be disclosed with the court. In fact, they can even be witnesses during hearings if so required.
In the context of family law, family counsellors are persons accredited as such under the Accreditation Rules or authorized by the court to act as such in family law cases. Parties are sometimes ordered by the court to participate in counselling sessions with accredited counsellors. Usually, counselling is required in parenting, child custody and family violence cases.
Communication with counsellors is kept confidential unless it falls under the exceptions mandated by the law. The exceptions are if abuse or violence are involved, or if the person counselled is above 18 and consents to the disclosure. If the person counselled is below 18, the counsellor is required to disclose the information if consent is given by the court or the person who has parental responsibility over the person counselled. An Independent Children’s Lawyer may ask for disclosure if this will help him in representing the child’s interests. The counsellor must also disclose information if the disclosure is in compliance with Commonwealth, state or territory laws.
In sum, the differences of the two mainly lie on their functions and the confidentiality of information that they acquire during sessions.
After being appointed or authorized by the court, the consultant and counsellor will have one-on-one sessions with each relevant party. In the absence of danger or risk of family violence to a child or parent the consultant or counsellor may ask to see all the parties during sessions.
At the start of the session they will disclose to the parties whether communication will be kept confidential or not. Consultants are likely to be ordered to make family reports and testify before the court while counsellors will stick to counselling and keep their records confidential.