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Independent Children's Lawyers are appointed by the court to represent children in Family law proceedings where there is a need for an independent review of the child's position.
Examples of when this may occur include cases where:
- there are allegations of physical, sexual or psychological child abuse,
- apparent intractable conflict between the parents,
- the child is alienated from one or both parents
- there are cultural or religious differences affecting the child,
- there is a proposal to separate siblings into different households, and
- matters where there is a high level of conflict between the parents.
This is not an exhaustive list but gives an indication of the serious nature of the issues before the court in cases where Independent Children's Lawyers are appointed. The role of the child representative is to investigate the current circumstances of the child. This is done by gathering information from various sources including teachers, doctors, psychologists, counsellors, police and child welfare authorities.
Once the child lawyer has access to the above information they determine whether it is appropriate to interview the children. The decision to interview is usually made in accordance with the ages of the child. For example, children who are in high school are almost always interviewed by the child lawyer whereas children who are in pre-school or in infants school may not.
The child lawyer will then determine whether there needs to be an expert appointed to prepare a report for the court. As these cases are usually very complex, the Independent Children's Lawyer will usually appoint a specially trained child psychiatrist to prepare a report for the court.
During a hearing, the Independent Children's Lawyer forms a view and makes recommendations as to how they would see the children's best interest being served. The court does not necessarily adopt the Independent Children's Lawyer’s view in all cases but clearly the independent nature of the investigation and the resulting recommendations are seriously considered by a Judge.