What is an Independent Children’s Lawyer in the Family Law

In Family Law parenting matters the Court may appoint an Independent Children’s Lawyer (“ICL”) to represent the interest of your child particularly if there are issues in a case such as high conflict or drug and alcohol, family violence, child abuse, mental health or alienation.   An ICL is expected to be alert to any risk of harm to a child that may arise from the other parties, or the physical environment in which the child maybe.

The role of the ICL is unique and they are expected to use their professional judgment and skill, subject to any directions or orders of the court.  The ICL  will read all the affidavits, subpoenaed documents and any reports that are before the Court so that they can make recommendations to the court about the parenting arrangements for the child.  

A child has a right to establish a professional relationship with the ICL. An important part of the ICL role is to meet and talk with the child if it is appropriate to do so.  In considering any views expressed by the child and ICL needs to consider that each child will have different emotional, cognitive and intellectual developmental levels, family structures, family dynamics, sibling relationships, religious and cultural backgrounds; and that children are vulnerable to external pressures when caught in disputes involving their parents.

Part of the ICL’s role is also to encourage and take part in any negotiations to settle the matter in a child’s interests. If mediation is agreed, the ICL will attend the mediation to try and resolve the arrangements for the child that are in the child’s best interest.  Sometimes the ICL will not agree to parenting orders when the parents themselves agree if they do not believe they are in the best interest of a child. 

The ICL is to remain independent, objective and focused upon promoting the child’s best interests in all dealings throughout the proceedings.

Some things to remember when an ICL is appointed to your case:

  • They are there to represent the best interest of your child and not the interest of parents.
  • They do not take sides of a party.
  • They form their own views after considering all the evidence, the wishes of the child and any reports.
  • They will be limited in what they are able to discuss with you, even if you are not represented by a lawyer. If you are legally represented, any matters you wish to raise should be raised with your own lawyer who will contact the ICL. This is to ensure that the ICL remains independent.
  • If an interview is arranged by the ICL to speak with the child, please ensure your child attend and you shouldn’t question your child about his or her sessions with the ICL or tell your child what to say.  
  • When the case is over, they will explain the orders to a child where appropriate to do so.

Neisha Shepherd, Solicitor Director, NLS Law