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Family consultant and expert reports in international child abduction cases

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By Amanda Humphreys, Senior Associate, MST Lawyers

Amanda Humphreys from our family law team was invited to present to the Australian Psychological Society’s Family Law Interest Group on 4 August 2016.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 (“the convention”) operates to provide lawful measures for the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully removed from or retained outside their country of habitual residence. The underlying principle of the convention is that international child abduction is harmful to children and abducted children should be returned promptly to their home country, save for in exceptional circumstances. The convention is implemented in Australia by the Family Law (Child Abduction) Regulations.

Regulation 26 of the Family Law (Child Abduction) Regulations enables the court to direct a family consultant to report to the court on such matters relevant to child abduction proceedings as the court considers to be appropriate and for such a report to be admitted into evidence.  In addition to matters required to be included in such a report, a family consultant may include any other matter that relates to the care, welfare and development of a child.

Parties to child abduction proceedings also sometimes seek to rely upon the evidence of psychologists and other health professionals in an effort to satisfy the court of one of the exceptions to the mandatory return of a child to its place of habitual residence.

In her presentation, Amanda provided an overview of the operation of the Convention in Australia and shared examples of cases where family consultant and other expert reports have been considered by the court in child abduction cases.  She discussed the way in which reports may not only inform the court and provide an opportunity for the “voice of the child” to be heard in child abduction proceedings, but also to assist with mediation.  Amanda also prompted practitioners to consider how we can ensure children involved in these particular disputes are provided with specialised therapeutic support and assistance. 

The event was well attended by experienced practitioners from various backgrounds, including specialist family and children’s lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, family consultants and mediators, providing a great opportunity for the sharing of information and ideas across disciplines.

MST Lawyers’ Family Law team has significant expertise in child abduction convention cases, including litigation and cross-border mediation. If you require assistance with an international family law matter please contact us by email at family@mst.com.au or by telephone + 61 3 8540 0200.