In Australia, an Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) is a lawyer appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child or children in family law proceedings. The ICL’s role is to provide an independent and unbiased assessment of what is in the child’s best interests, and to advocate for the child’s rights and needs.
The ICL is not the child’s lawyer in the sense that they do not take instructions from the child, but rather they represent the child’s interests to the Court. They are appointed by the Court and their duties include conducting interviews with the child, the parents, and any other relevant parties. In addition, they are required to make recommendations to the Court regarding issues such as custody, access, and parental responsibility.
Yes, there are guidelines for Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) in Australia. These guidelines are contained in the Family Law Guidelines for Independent Children’s Lawyers. These were developed by the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia in consultation with the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The guidelines provide a framework for the ethical and professional conduct of ICLs, and outline the key principles that should guide their work. These principles include the best interests of the child, independence and impartiality, confidentiality, and effective communication.
The guidelines also provide guidance on specific issues that ICLs may encounter, such as dealing with allegations of abuse or neglect, managing conflicts of interest, and working with other professionals involved in the case.
ICLs are required to adhere to these guidelines, as well as to the legal and ethical standards of the legal profession. Failure to comply with these standards can result in disciplinary action, including suspension or cancellation of a lawyer’s practising certificate.
At the outset of a case, an Independent Children’s Lawyer will determine the orders that are sought on behalf of the child. If the ICL has established these orders, they will inform the parents’ lawyers or you directly if you are not represented by a family lawyer, which can facilitate negotiations. However, if the child’s best interests are not clear, the ICL may not be able to provide a recommendation until at a later stage, or in some instances, not at all.
The recommendation made by an Independent Children’s Lawyer is dependent on the evidence that is present at the time. In the event that new evidence comes to light before the court makes final orders, the Independent Children’s Lawyer will have to assess how this evidence will affect any previous recommendations.
In complex cases, the Court may require a written report concerning the child, parents, and other individuals involved in the matter. Typically, the Independent Children’s Lawyer will make an application for this order. A family consultant, social worker, child and family psychologist, or psychiatrist, as appropriate, will prepare the report by interviewing the relevant parties. The report is then released by the Court and provided to your legal representative (or to you if you are self-represented) and the Independent Children’s Lawyer.
This report may facilitate negotiations towards a settlement agreement. If the case is not resolved, the family report will be included as part of the evidence that the judge considers at a final hearing in the Federal Circuit and Family Court.
One of the main advantages of having an ICL in family law proceedings is that they provide an independent voice for the child. This is particularly important when there are disputes between the parents about what is best for the child, as the ICL can provide an objective view based on the child’s needs and interests.
However, the question of whether Independent Children’s Lawyers are fair is a matter of some debate. Critics argue that the ICL system can be biased against fathers, and that the lawyers appointed as ICLs may not always act in the best interests of the child. Some also argue that the ICL system is too expensive and time-consuming, and that it can add unnecessary delays and costs to family law proceedings.
On the other hand, supporters of the ICL system argue that it provides an important safeguard for children who may be at risk of harm or neglect in family law proceedings. They also point out that ICLs are trained professionals who are required to act in accordance with the law and the ethical standards of their profession.
One area where Independent Children’s Lawyers can be particularly valuable is in detecting and addressing parental alienation. Parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse that occurs when one parent attempts to turn the child against the other parent. It can be difficult to detect, but an ICL who is experienced in identifying the signs of parental alienation can play a crucial role in protecting the child from this form of abuse.
Ensure that your child attends all appointments scheduled by the Independent Children’s Lawyer. It’s important to note that the ICL will be restricted in what they can discuss with you, even if you are unrepresented. If you have legal representation, any issues you want to raise should be communicated to your lawyer, who will then liaise with the ICL.
It’s crucial not to inquire about your child’s sessions with the Independent Children’s Lawyer as they are intended to remain confidential between the child and the lawyer. Encourage your child to contact the Independent Children’s Lawyer as needed.
If you have an ICL appointed in your family law case, it is strongly advised to consult with a child custody lawyer for legal advice. You can get in touch with Lyons Law Group, a family law firm in Sydney, for assistance with your family law proceedings.