You may have been asked by a court or informed by your lawyer that you need to attend a Child Dispute Conference.
This post is designed to give you a brief overview of what happens before, during and after a Child Dispute Conference.
Here are “5 Critical Points you Should Know about your Child Dispute Conference”.
What is a Child Dispute Conference?
A Child Dispute Conference is a court ordered meeting where you will meet with a family consultant.
A family consultant is usually a psychologist or social worker, who are deemed experts by the court to deal with families and children.
Only the parties of the matter need to attend and children and lawyers do not need to go.
The purpose of the conference is to do a preliminary assessment of the family situation so that necessary information can be provided to the court.
The meeting is held to identify the needs of the children, the issues in dispute and anything else that might assist the court in making decisions about arrangements for the children.
Because the conference is provided by the court, there is no charge for the conference itself.
How to prepare for a child dispute conference
You or your lawyer will be given a time and date for the conference by the court. You will be asked to confirm the appointment by calling the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000.
You must attend the Child Dispute Conference as it is court ordered.
Non-attendance can cause delays and may result in extra costs.
You must call the same number listed above if you cannot attend, but be aware that only in exceptional circumstances can an appointment time be changed.
You do not need to prepare or take any documents with you to the conference.
You can take someone with you to the conference for support.
The person you take for support will not take part in the conference interviews and will be there merely for support.
A support person can be people such as a grandparent, a significant other or someone you trust.
Attending your appointment
The family consultant will hold separate interviews with you and the other party.
Sometimes the interviews might be conducted together but only in instances where that is agreed on.
They will spend time with each party to address things such as:
- risk factors
- the ability of parents to work together, and any possibilities for negotiation
- how the child or children may be experiencing the family situation, and
- the child or children’s developmental needs.
The family consultant will focus on identifying the needs of the child or children.
The role of the family consultant will be to collect all relevant information to relay back to the court to be able to assist the court in the next steps.
The family consultant is also there to help you reach an agreement.
The Child Dispute Conference is usually only attended by the parties and their support, but in some cases a court may order a “child inclusive” conference.
At a child inclusive conference, the family consultant will interview the child or children separately to the parties involved.
The effects of a child dispute conference
The family consultant will prepare a “Memorandum to Court” at the end of the conference.
A Memorandum to Court will contain the details of the assessment done by the family consultant and will be given to the court to help them make decisions about arrangements.
The Memorandum can be used as evidence in court.
The Memorandum and its contents cannot be shown to other people. You cannot share it with other family members or the people who attended the conference with you as support.
You are not bound by the Memorandum but it can assist you in making future decisions such as preparing consent orders.
Although the Memorandum is not binding, the recommendations of the family consultant are relied upon by a Judge as the family consultants are regarded as experts.
We do acknowledge that sometimes family consultants may get it wrong and have detailed what you can do in that circumstance in the paragraph titled “what happens now?”
You or your lawyer will be given the Memorandum at the next hearing.
It is encouraged to settle the matter outside of court and the Memorandum can greatly assist in providing the relevant insight.
What happens now?
If an agreement is not reached, you might have to attend more conferences.
You may also attend settlement negotiations that can help progress the matter to making a formal arrangement.
You may proceed to make more formal orders known as consent orders.
Because the memorandum can be used as evidence, you are able to challenge it.
If you do not agree with the family consultant and want to highlight a concern with their assessment you can speak to your lawyer.
If you have attended a Child Dispute Conference and wish to highlight a concern, there is useful information provided by the Family Court about their complaints policy or the Federal Circuit Court about their complaints policy.
If there are any other questions you have, we highly encourage asking your lawyer.
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.