Arrangements for your children - an introduction to what you need to know

Firstly, we would like to welcome you to our blog.

Whether you are looking for more information about bankruptcy and family law, contemplating bankruptcy as an option for you or you are currently in bankruptcy while dealing with family law issues, our aim is to provide you with information that is easy to understand and assist you to navigate your situation.

We also understand that the thought and contemplation of divorce and separation can be incredibly stressful and troubling for you. In our earlier blog, we discussed the pathway to reaching an agreement as to the arrangements for your children. In this blog, we are going to delve deeper into these issues and highlight some procedural issues and alert you to some things you should look for.

The law as it applies to parenting matters in Australia is largely settled. The complexities in parenting matters arise as to specific issues that apply to each family trying to work out their parenting arrangements.

What happens when there is an allegation of family violence or risk?

In our earlier blog, we discussed the paramount principal. This is, it is in the best interests of a child to have a meaningful relationship with each parent, but so too, is their need to be protected from harm.

If an allegation of family violence or risk is raised, the court will always act protectively. This is a tricky dynamic to navigate and is entirely focused on the allegation itself and the seriousness of the alleged behaviour.

Where an allegation is made, complexity also arises where the relationship between both parents is usually fractured and their capacity to work together to make decisions about the children and facilitate changeover and consistent care arrangements is compromised.

Depending on the nature of the allegation, it is commonplace that psychological intervention is required:

  1. The court may make an order for a Child Inclusive Conference. This is where you and the other party, together with your children are interviewed by a psychologist employed by the court, whereby an assessment is made and a report written, which sets out all of the allegations, a preliminary view and assessment and recommendations as to the next steps. Any discussions in these interviews are admissible and can be put to the court;
  2. Depending on the age and maturity of your children, it may not be possible for them to be interviewed. In these circumstances, the court will likely make an order for the preparation of a Child Dispute Conference. This is the same as a Child Inclusive Conference, save for the children are not interviewed;
  3. The court may also make an order for a family report, or if you have financial capacity, a private family report known as a \’single expert report\’. We will explore this further below.

Navigating the circumstances for your children in this intervening period where the investigations are conducted can be extremely difficult and challenging. Moreover, it is a huge challenge for the court to treat these allegations with caution, while trying to maintain your children\’s loving and meaningful relationship with you.

While this process is taking place, it is more common than not that a court will make an order for supervised time until the investigation process can complete.

Supervised time and what it means

Supervised time is whereby an independent third party is employed (this can be a professional service, friend or family member) to be with you while your children are spending time with you.

Most people look at this scenario with defeat. This attitude couldn\’t be further from the truth.

When allegations are put against you or you are making those allegations, supervised time with a professional centre can assist you greatly. This is done by the formation of reports, which describe the nature of your parenting arrangement, the attachment and bond you have with your children. This is even more important when the allegations are denied.

QUICK TIP: supervision is not a long-term option; it is a short-term remedy pending the finalisation of the investigation process set out above.

What is a family report (or single expert report)?

A family report is a document written by a family consultant, who is a psychologist employed by the court. There are significant wait times (up to 12 months) for the interview process to take place and thereafter, release of the report. You can speed up this process by obtaining a private report.

The purpose of this report is to assist the court to determine what arrangements are in the best interests of your children. The report will explore the issues put by you and your former spouse and culminate in a series of recommendations for next steps for your family.

The report is prepared and sent to the Judge handling your matter. Once received, they will then release it to all parties to the proceedings.

It is important to note that the report is highly confidential and you cannot share or publicise it in any way.

General tips

We understand that separation in and of itself is an extremely upsetting and difficult thing to work through. Couple this with children and the circumstances can be incredibly difficult to navigate.

We recommend that you divert your focus from your relationship and focus on your children. Put them first and think with positivity in your dealings with your former spouse.

The smoother the arrangements, including for changeover and your dealings with your former spouse in front of the children, the better it is for the wellbeing and security of your children.

Next steps

We note that the content of this article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is general information only. You should not rely on it as legal advice. If you would like to discuss anything of interest or concern to you, please contact us. Nothing arising from the content of this article is intended to create a legal relationship between us and any reader. If you would like to obtain legal advice from Tim Nicholls on your family law circumstances or to instruct him to act in your family law proceedings, call Understanding Bankruptcy and we will organise for Tim Nicholls to make contact with you.