What does a Family Consultant in a family court do?

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A family consultant prepares reports for the family court after conducting child and family assessments.
Australia Family and Matrimonial
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A family consultant in a family court has the responsibility to prepare a family report after conducting child and family assessments. The Federal Circuit and Family Court can order these reports under specific sections of the Family Law Act (1975).

Subsequently, the family consultant in a family court has to prepare these reports to help the court determine the best course of action when dealing with divorce or separation cases.

For example, the court may order custody arrangements on the basis of a report given by a family consultant in a family court of Australia.

Broadly, there are two main types of family reports that a family consultant prepares. These are:

  • Child Impact Reports, and
  • Family Reports

Parenting and child custody matters are some of the most disputed matters in family law. Therefore, these reports are very handy, as they provide detailed information on the circumstances of the matter.

In this article, we will explore who a family consultant in a family court is, what their responsibilities are, and what kinds of family reports they make.

Who Is a Family Consultant in a family court?

Section 11B of the FLA (1975) provides a definition of family consultant. According to the FLA, a family consultant is a person who is appointed as:

  • a family consultant under Section 18ZH of the Federal Court of Australia Act (1976), or
  • a family consultant under the regulations, or
  • under the law of a state, as a family consultant in relation to a family court of that state.

Moreover, Section 11A of the FLA (1975) highlights the various functions of a consultant in the Federal Circuit and Family Court. We will explore the roles and functions in detail below.

When parties speak with a family consultant, no information they record is "confidential." Family consultant "confidential reports" are rare. All the information and evidence they gather is admissible in court. Thus, parties cannot speak "off the record" when talking to a family consultant.

Moreover, depending on the kind of information they gather, they can contact welfare authorities. For example, if they find that the child is being ill-treated, they have the authority to notify welfare authorities of the same. Importantly, they can also help parties chalk out parenting plans.

Family Consultants in a family court: Two Types

A family consultant can either be an employee of the Court, or private practitioners who are family consultant appointed by Court. Employees of the court who act as family consultants hold the title of Court Child Expert.

Court Child Experts have specialist knowledge in child and family issues and are generally highly qualified psychologists or social workers.

The Court's Chief Executive Officer issues authorisations and appointments for Court Child Experts. Based on their authorisation and appointment, Court Child Experts can act as family counsellors and family consultants, respectively.

Under the CEO's family counsellor authorisation, a Court Child Expert has to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  1. provide advice about children when court registrars conduct court-ordered dispute resolution conferences, and
  2. conduct triage interviews as part of the Court's Lighthouse Project.

On the other hand, private practitioners have to show the court that they are qualified enough to fulfil the duties of a family consultant. They can either be from social work, psychiatry or psychology background. These consultants are often referred to as Regulation 7 Family Consultant, as they are appointed under the Family Law Regulations. Notably, courts cover costs for reports done by both types of consultants.

Types of Family Reports

As mentioned in the introduction, a family consultant in a family court can prepare either a Family Report or a Child Impact Report.

Family Report

A judge or registrar can order a family report under Section 62G of the Family Law Act (1975). Family report writers make a note of all evidence and information that is important during a divorce or separation case.

As mentioned above, either a Child Court Expert can prepare a report under their appointment as a family consultant or a private practitioner (Regulation 7 Family Consultant) can prepare a family report.

In simple terms, a family report is an unbiased and independent family assessment that assists parties and the family court in making decisions about children in a divorce or separation hearing.

There are various things that the family report writer needs to consider while preparing the report. This includes the children's development and experiences, the circumstances of the family, and all other matters relevant to the case.

Moreover, the family consultant will then make suggestions that are best suited to meet the child's needs in terms of their welfare, care, and development.

Child Impact Report

A Court Child Expert who works in the Court Children's Services can prepare a child impact report. However, a Court Child Expert is not the same as an Independent Children's Lawyer. A Child Impact Report provides information regarding the needs of the children, and their experiences.

When the Court Child Expert prepares the report, he/she considers many factors, such as the child's development, presence of risk factors in the child's life (such as family violence), and the child's relationships.

Essentially, a Child Impact Report will highlight the impact that these issues will have on the child and parenting. Moreover, such reports help judges and registrars better understand the circumstances of a family law case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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