Recently the Family Law Act has been amended to allow children to speak for themselves in court rather than through a family consultants or lawyers. So what does this amendment actually mean for the way family law cases will be handled in Sydney?
This amendment comes from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child but there are many who are concerned that it is just a nice idea, and won’t actually come into effect in the courtroom. However, there are those who believe that because the option is there, judges will feel more comfortable in asking a child to speak if they are willing and capable.
A lot of research actually shows that in cases surrounding family law, which as a rule of thumb are about children, the children often feel helpless and unheard, and often really do desire to get a chance to speak. Previously, a child was only allowed to have their opinions heard through specialists, psychologists, and social workers who would write reports from their talks. Though in extreme cases or those relating to family violence or child abuse, an independent children’s lawyer may have been the one to speak for the child, but they were still presenting their opinion about the child as they don’t represent the child, but the child’s best interests.
The Lionel Bowen Building where the Family Court of Australia is in Sydney
An independent study found that 90% of children interviewed wanted to be involved in their family law cases, but not necessarily in making decisions. However, the socially-accepted approach is to shield children from such situations, but this could actually be misguided. For instance, children can feel like the confidentiality they shared with the consultants or lawyers has been broken. Not all consultants or lawyers will check back with the child after writing their reports before showing them to the rest of the court, including the child’s parents, and this can have negative effects.
As the reform is so new, it is simply a matter of waiting to see what will happen. Hopefully, the addition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will see children being heard more clearly in court, if they wish to be, but it really is too early to tell, and we’re left with guesses and speculations.