In most family law matters that involve parties seeking orders in relation to children, the Court will order both parties attend a Child Dispute Conference to assist the Court with obtaining an initial view and understanding of the matter.
A Child Dispute Conference involves both parties meeting with a Family Consultant at the Court. A Family Consultant is a psychologist or social worker that has been appointed by the Court with specific skills and qualifications in working with children and families.
The purpose of the Child Dispute Conference is for the Family Consultant to meet with both of the parties to explore the issues that are in dispute, whether there are any risk factors and to see whether the parties can reach any agreements about arrangements for the children.
In some cases, the Court may order a Child Inclusive Conference, which involves the Family Consultant also interviewing the children separately from the parties. This type of conference can assist the Court as the children are provided with an opportunity to express their views and their wishes. However, the Family Consultant will not force any children to express their views or wishes if they do not want to.
Attendance at the Conference is compulsory and the Family Consultant interviews both parties separately. Parties are able to bring a support person with them if required, however, the Family Consultant generally only interviews the parties and not any other significant people in the children’s lives.
After the interviews, the Family Consultant will prepare a Memorandum to the Court, which is a short report to the Judge and is usually two or three pages long. In this report, the Family Consultant will identify to the Judge what the issues in dispute are, whether any agreements were reached and make recommendations for the progress of the matter. The parties or their solicitors receive a copy of the report before the next Court event.
The recommendations of a Family Consultant are generally persuasive to a Judge as they are Court experts. However, the Court considers a range of information and factors when determining what care arrangements are in the best interests of the children and the Family Consultant does not always get it right. If you have an issue with a part of your Memorandum then the appropriate place to challenge this is in Court and you should raise the issue with your lawyer immediately.
If you, or someone you know needs family law advice of help on what to do next, contact us on (02) 4322 0251 to speak to one of our Family Law specialists.