Did you know that here at Hickman Family Lawyers in Perth, we have an independent children’s lawyer on our team?
Find out more about what an independent children’s lawyer is, and how they might be able to help your child.
What is an Independent Children’s Lawyer?
An Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) is a qualified lawyer usually appointed by the Family Court to represent the interests of a child or children in any parenting matter or dispute brought before the Court. Any person participating in a court matter involving children, is entitled to request the Court to appoint an ICL. The Court will then decide whether to appoint one or not.
These highly specialised lawyers must have successfully completed the National ICL Training Program and be registered on a State ICL Panel, before they can be appointed by the Court. An ICL does not represent any particular person in any case or dispute, remaining completely neutral and focusing only on the best interests of the child or children.
They are bound by strict guidelines endorsed by the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia.
When is an Independent Children’s Lawyer appointed?
An ICL can be appointed by the Court for a number of reasons, all relating to a possible risk to the welfare or wellbeing of a child. These include but not restricted to the following:
- Allegations of family violence, abuse, neglect or constant conflict between parents.
- Neither parent being suitable to care for the child.
- Serious medical or mental health issues affecting parents or child.
- A child is alienated by either parent or there’s a risk a child may be removed from their home, or separated from their sibling(s).
- The conduct of one or both parents seriously affecting the welfare of a child.
- Allegations of drug or alcohol abuse.
What is the role of an Independent Children’s Lawyer?
The roles of an ICL vary from case to case. Their primary role is to assess each situation, obtain the child’s views if appropriate, and present all the relevant information the Court, along with their own recommendations, so the Court can make a ruling that is in the best interests of the child. In certain cases, they may also act as an impartial “mediator” between the child and the parents.
Their functions may include the following:
- Meet and interview the children, if not below school going age or when other circumstances may not allow.
- Obtain and examine evidence, documents and records from the various organisations, such as schools, police, community agencies, medical or psychiatric personnel, for both child and parents.
- Question witnesses such as parents, relatives, and various experts.
- Request drug or alcohol testing for children and parents.
- Arrange for any medical or psychological reports.
- Ensure the views of a child are expressed to the Court, but are not bound by a child’s instructions.
- Present all relevant documents and their own independent report and recommendations to the Court.
- In highly complex cases, they may recommend the use of further experts, such as a Family Consultant to prepare the final report.
Who pays for an Independent Children’s Lawyer?
In most cases an ICL is appointed by the Court, therefore the costs are usually borne by the relevant Legal Aid Agency in the State or Territory the case is heard. The Court, however, may also make an order that one or both parents pay for the ICL, or at least contribute to the costs, if they can afford to do so.
What can I do if I am unhappy with the ICL appointed in my case?
Independent Children’s Lawyers are usually appointed in most difficult and complex cases, so it’s possible that their observations and recommendations may not always be in total agreement of one or both parents.
Parents have several avenues to pursue if they are unhappy with the performance of the ICL. Regardless of which one to take, legal advice is strongly recommended before taking any steps.