The Family Court makes decisions about many family matters, especially where parents have decided to separate or divorce. Visiting the Family Court can be distressing for children and young people. It may be difficult to understand what is going on in the court, especially if the child or young person has difficulty understanding English or Australian culture or has a disability.
Children and young people in the Family Court
The Family Court aims to be less formal and frightening for families, especially children and young people. In making decisions affecting children and young people, the court must consider the child’s best interests over and above anything else. The court must consider things such as the child’s wishes, the child’s living environment and how any decision will affect the child.
To find out the wishes of a child or young person, the court can ask him or her to give evidence in person. However, because children and young people may find this very upsetting, the court generally tries to get this information in other ways, including
- family reports, where a court counsellor or welfare officer reports on the welfare of the child or young person
- counselling parents and the child by court counsellors
- allowing the child or young person to give evidence in a more relaxed way.
Separate representation of children and young people
The Family Court may order that a child or young person involved in a case have someone to speak for him or her separate from the parents. Separate representatives are lawyers who provide information to the court about a child or young person. They do not have to do what the child or young person wants but they must give the child’s views to the court. A separate representative may be ordered where child abuse may have occurred or where neither parent seems suitable to look after the child or young person.
Issue 16: Should young people be more involved in Family Law proceedings? How?
Young people’s access to the Family Court
Suggestions for how young people may be better involved and heard by the court include
- training judges and lawyers to deal better with the needs of young people
- looking at whether the Family Court system and rules are the best way to handle issues involving young people
- looking at whether there are effective services available to help young people from other cultures use the court properly.
Issue 17: We are interested to hear about your experiences in the Family Court. What problems or difficulties did you have?
Issue 18: Do you have any suggestions about how the court and the proceedings could be improved? Would you have liked more of a say in court decisions that affected you?