What happens at a Child Dispute Conference ? How do I prepare for a Child Dispute Conference?
In nearly all family law proceedings involving disputes about the care arrangements for children, the parents are ordered by the Court to attend a Child Dispute Conference. The Conference is an opportunity for parties to meet with a Family Consultant and attempt to resolve the issues they have in relation to agreeing upon parenting arrangements and other specific issues about their children.
Family Consultants are psychologists or social workers (counsellors) who have been appointed by the Court and specialise in working with families and in particular, working with children.
At the Child Dispute Conference the Family Consultant will meet with both parties, either separately or together or a combination of both, and explore the issues that are in dispute about the children and what arrangements need to be made for the children. The Family Consultant will attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. Attendance at the Child Dispute Conference is compulsory. Lawyers do not attend. Following the Child Dispute Conference, the Family Consultant will prepare a Memorandum to the Court to advise the Judicial Officer whether any agreement was reached; what issues are in dispute and any recommendations. In some cases, a further Child Dispute Conference may be ordered or, often a Family Report may be recommended.
Family Reports assist the Court in making decisions about a child or the children. Family Reports can also be used as an aid to settle a matter. If a Family Report is ordered, a series of interviews can occur both individually and with both parties present. Children are commonly interviewed separately and the Family Consultant may also interview other persons of significance in your child or children’s life for example grandparents or the new partner’s of one of the parties.
The information obtained by the Family Consultant will include the issues in dispute, the views and wishes of the children and the past and current parenting arrangements and each parties availability for the future. The information that each of the parties and the children provide to the Family Consultant is not confidential and is admissible. The Family Consultant will include all the relevant information provided as well as their own observations and recommendations into a Report which is then provided to the Court and the parties and/or their lawyers. For this reason, whilst lawyers do not attend at such conferences, careful preparation is recommended so as to prepare and familiarise oneself with the process.
Disputes about children are often resolved through Child Dispute Conferences or following receipt of Family Reports prepared by Family Consultants as they can often provide a useful tool for assisting in settlement negotiations. Having said that we have been involved in many matters where regretfully the Family Consultant has simply ‘got it wrong’ and in which event they will be required to be in attendance at court for cross examination in order that the deficiencies in their report may be brought to the courts attention.
Need more information? Contact us for a first free consultation.