Can Children Decide Where They Live?
When determining arrangements for children when their parents separate, family law decrees that the ‘best interests’ of children are paramount. In other words, a Court will look at what is best for the children and not what is best for their parents.
Children do not get to decide who they live with when their parents separate. However, their views or wishes can very much be taken into account, and be highly influential, depending on their age and maturity and how their views or wishes have been formed.
Children are not directly involved in any Court proceedings in that they do not attend any Court room. It is extremely rare for a Judge to speak with children. Children’s views and wishes are obtained in other ways.
Child Inclusive Conference:
A Child Inclusive Conference is a preliminary and limited assessment, intended to assist the Court to make shorter term orders and to decide on the best way for the matter to proceed. It is normally ordered in the very early stages of Court proceedings.
A Child Inclusive Conference is a meeting with a family consultant that is ordered by the Court which both parents and the children attend. Lawyers are not included. The conference is intended to give the Court an understanding of the family situation, and particularly of the children’s experience. The conference can help the judicial officer hearing the case make short-term decisions about arrangements for the children. It may also help the parties reach an agreement. A short report is prepared for the Court
A Family Report is a comprehensive assessment of the family situation, which assists the Court at a final hearing to make long-term orders for the children.
The family consultant will conduct a series of interviews in one day or over a few days. They will have individual interviews with the parents. They may also interview other significant people, such as adult siblings, step or half siblings, partners or grandparents.
Children are seen separately from any adults (except in special circumstances). Children are given an opportunity to express their views and wishes, but no child will be expected to do so. The family consultant may also observe the interaction between the children and each parent (and other significant people) in separate observation sessions.
In preparing the report, the family consultant considers the family’s circumstances, explores issues relevant to the case and recommends arrangements that will best meet the children’s future care, welfare and developmental needs. The best interests of the children are the main focus of the report.
Independent Children’s Lawyer:
In some cases, children’s wishes may be obtained by the children meeting with the Independent Children’s Lawyer.
A final thought for parents. When considering children’s views and wishes, it is very important to understand how and why the children’s wishes have been formed. Remember, it is very common for children to simply tell each of their parents what it is they think their parents want to hear.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Taking the next step and contacting a family lawyer can be scary. Our lawyers will make you feel comfortable so you can talk about your situation. But first, ask yourself, Do I really need a lawyer?