Child Dispute Conferences

Where parties have yet to reach agreement about parenting arrangements for
their children and have a case before the Federal Circuit Court of Australia or
the Family Court of Australia (the “Court”) seeking parenting orders, it is highly
likely that the Court will order that the parties attend a Child Dispute Conference
What is a CDC?
A CDC is a Court-ordered and Court provided meeting between a Family
Consultant and each of the parties separately, with lawyers and children being
excluded from the CDC. However, the Family Consultant may speak to the
parties together if they agree to this.
Is Attendance Mandatory?
Because a CDC is Court-ordered, the parties must attend. Although no costs are
payable by the parties for the CDC, a party’s failure to attend a CDC may result
in further delays and additional costs. Exceptional circumstances must exist
before a CDC appointment can be changed.
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The purpose of the CDC is for the Family Consultant to conduct an assessment
to enable the Court to have an initial understanding of the issues in dispute and
the family circumstances. The CDC can assist the judge in making short-term
decisions about the children’s arrangements. The CDC may also facilitate the
parties to reach agreement about all or some of the issues relating to parenting,
with the parties possibly having an opportunity to negotiate the issues if there
is enough time.
When speaking to each of the parties, the Family Consultant will focus on gaining
an understanding of the issues in the matter, risk identification and determining
the likely best next steps in the case. The Family Consultant will also be able to
access all documents filed by the parties with the Court and will review them to
ascertain any risks, the developmental needs of the children, the parties’ ability
to cooperate including negotiation possibilities, and the children’s experiences
of the family circumstances.
Family Consultants
Family Consultants:
are qualified social workers or psychologists;
are court experts in children’s matters;
have specific experience and skill in working with families and children;
are appointed by the Courts to assist the parties and judges to attain
optimal outcomes for children.
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It is important to bear in mind that the conversations the parties have with the
Family Consultant are not confidential. The Family Consultant can report any
information provided by the parties to the Court, and it is admissible.
Memorandum to Court
Once the CDC is finished, the Family Consultant will prepare a document called
a “Memorandum to Court”. The Memorandum to Court will then be provided
to the Court. It is important to note that the Memorandum to Court is admissible
as evidence in your case.
The Memorandum to Court will set out the Family Consultant’s assessment of
the situation, focussing on the needs of the children, as well as
recommendations about what processes or arrangements will likely assist the
Court in determining the next steps in the matter and what arrangements are
likely ideal to meet your children’s short-term welfare, care and developmental
Your lawyer (or you if you are unrepresented) will be provided with a copy of
the Memorandum to Court before the next hearing. Other than the parties and
their legal representatives, without the permission of the Court the
Memorandum to Court cannot be shown to anyone, including other family
members or persons who are not a party to the matter but who have been
interviewed. Section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) criminalises the
publication or dissemination to the public, or a section thereof, of any part of
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proceedings under the Family Law Act that identifies a party, witness or
prescribed other persons.
Parties may wish to settle their parenting dispute after reviewing the contents
of the Memorandum to Court, and this is not uncommon. Any such agreement
should be formalised and finalised by way of Consent Orders filed with the
It may be the case that a party does not agree with the Memorandum to Court
in whole or in part. It is important to note that the advice contained in the
Memorandum to Court is not binding on the Court and that the Court considers
a variety of information in making decisions about your matter. Nevertheless,
the appropriate avenue to challenge the Memorandum to Court is through the
Court itself (as is the case with any evidence being challenged). Accordingly,
inform your legal representative of your concerns as soon as possible if you are
represented. If you are not represented, you will need to raise your concerns in
A CDC is a useful tool that assists the Court by providing the Court with an
initial understanding of the issues in dispute and the family circumstances. A
CDC can help the Court when making short-term decisions about the children’s
arrangements and may also facilitate the parties reaching agreement about
all or some of the issues relating to parenting.
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RN LEGAL has assisted many clients in resolving their parenting dispute. RN
LEGAL has the experience, expertise, and resources to help you through your
parenting dispute. Contact us on (02) 9191 9293 or if you
require advice in relation to your parenting dispute