I Have to See a Family Consultant – Help!

by Peter Magee on October 24, 2016

Anne-Louise Pham

Sometimes in parenting proceedings, the Court will make an Order for the parties (and in some cases the children) to attend upon a Family Consultant. This may be for the purposes of a Child Inclusive Conference, a Child Dispute Conference or a Family Report. This can be a daunting process for many people. Other than your Affidavit, this is the first point in the proceedings where you will be able to provide your point of view, express your concerns and set out what you want for your children.

Who are Family Consultants?

Family consultants are qualified social workers and psychologists. They have skills and experience in working with children and families. The Court views the opinions of a Family Consultant as that of an expert witness. Their role is advisory in nature; providing the Court with an opinion as to what is in your child/ren’s best interests.

What is the process?

In order to form a view about your family, the Family Consultant will interview you, your ex, any other relevant party and in some cases the children (depending on their age). The Family Consultant may also consider material filed by you and your ex partner in the proceedings.

The length of time required for such interviews depends on the complexity of the matter and type of report ordered. Interviews for a Child Dispute Conference (which does not include your children) will usually take a few hours only. Interviews for a Child Inclusive Conference (which includes your children) will take about half a day. Family Report interviews will usually take longer as this report is complex in nature and may involve psychological testing.

Once the Family Consultant has interviewed the parties they will then prepare a report. The report will detail the history of the matter and the family’s circumstances, explore the relevant issues and finally make a recommendation as to what arrangements would be in the child/ren’s best interests. This is not just about how and when the children spend time with each party but also about the children’s care, welfare and development.

Once the relevant report has been prepared, it will be released to the Court. The Judge will then have an opportunity to review the report and will usually then release the report to the parties or their lawyers. You should be aware that it is an offence to show the report to any other person other than the parties to the matter and your respective lawyers. It is an offence to publish or disseminate to the public any part of your proceedings which identifies a party, a witness or other persons.

So how much does this all cost?

It is possible for you to seek a Court funded family report. However, due to the limited resources of the Court, it may take some time (even a year) before your family report interview. If the parties can afford it, and agree to pay for such report, it is possible that a private family report may be ordered. The cost of a private report depends on the complexity of the case, whether any psychological testing is required and the number of parties to be interviewed.

As a general rule, child inclusive conference and child dispute conferences are paid for by the Court and will be at no charge to either party. It is also possible for you and your ex-partner to agree to pay for a private child inclusive mediation or child wishes report. These are similar reports which may assist the Court in making a decision about the care, welfare and development of your children.

What if I don’t want to see my ex?

If you have concerns about your safety when attending the Court for your interview, you should call the National Enquiry Line on 1300 352 000 so that the Court can arrange appropriate safety mechanisms for you. This may involve arranging a separate room for you and/or an earlier arrival time for you at the Court. You should advise the Court if there is any existing Domestic Violence Order in place between you and your ex partner so that the family consultant can be alive to this issue before your interview.

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