Independent Children's Lawyers

An Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) is a lawyer appointed by the Family Court to represent children's interests in parenting order cases.

The ICL's role is to look at the whole of the case and give an opinion, based on that evidence, about what parenting orders would be in the best interests of the children.

An ICL is not your child's lawyer. They do not have to do what your child tells them or follow their instructions about what opinion to give in court. The ICL's role is to say what orders are in the child's best interests. This will involve considering any views expressed by the children. The ICL must tell the court anything a child has said about want they to happen in the future, including who they live with, where they will live, and how much time they want to spend with their parents and other important people in their lives. 

This information will help you to understand the role of the ICL.  Find out:

  • what an ICL does
  • how an ICL can be appointed
  • how you can help your children if an ICL is appointed, and
  • what you can do if you think an ICL has acted improperly.

What does an Independent Children's Lawyer do?

An Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) is a lawyer appointed by the Family Court to represent and promote your children's best interests in parenting cases. The ICL should act impartially towards the court and the parties involved in the case, and only be focused on what is in the best interests of the child.

The ICL can explain to the children how the family law works and what decisions the court might have to make about the their future. How much the ICL interacts with the children will depend upon their age and maturity, and how much involvement the children already has with other people, such as counsellors. The ICL should explain what they can, and cannot do, as part of their role. This includes explaining that some things the children say to the ICL may need to be shared with the court, the children's parents, or other services.

They must make sure that the court has all the important information about the children's needs and background, including asking for expert evidence if necessary, to help the Court make the best decision for the children. The ICL will also work with the Family Consultant and other experts involved in the case.

An ICL will normally communicate about the case with your lawyer, and not directly with you. If you do not have a lawyer, the ICL can speak with you if you want. You need to remember that what you say to the ICL is not secret or confidential. The ICL will normally tell the other parties that they have met with you.

What can I do to help my children if an ICL is appointed?

The ICL will normally want to give your children the chance to speak with them, unless they are under school age. As a parent, you can help your children by:

  • making sure they attend any appointments arranged by the ICL or other experts appointed by the court
  • helping them contact the ICL whenever the children want, and letting them talk in private, and
  • not asking your children about what they said to the ICL or other people who will be providing reports to the court.

When will an Independent Children's Lawyer be appointed?

The court needs to decide if an ICL is needed. This could be because the case involves:

  • allegations of family violence, child abuse or neglect
  • a high level of conflict and dispute between the parents
  • a parent or child with serious medical or mental health issues
  • allegations about the views of the children, who are mature enough to express their views
  • a proposal to separate siblings, or for a parent to relocate a long way from the other parent, or
  • other combinations of difficult and complex issues.

The Family Court can raise the question if an ICL is needed, or a party can ask the court to consider appointing an ICL.

    What if I'm unhappy with the ICL?

    Independent Children's Lawyers are appointed in complex cases where parents have been unable to agree on what is in the best interests of their children. What an ICL does, and what they think is in the children's best interests, may not always meet with the approval of the parents or the children. This does not mean that the ICL has acted inappropriately or failed in their professional responsibilities.

    The Court will only remove an ICL in very serious circumstances. This includes cases where there is evidence that the ICL:

    • is acting against the children's best interests
    • is not doing the job properly
    • is not making independent decisions, or
    • has a conflict of interest.

    It is important to remember that an ICL does not have to follow what a child says they want to happen. The ICL has a responsibility to put forward the child's views, along with any reasons for why those views should be followed. If the ICL is going to suggest the court makes orders that go against what the child says they want, the ICL must clearly explain to the child and the court why they do not think those views promote the child's best interests.

    The Family Court has guidelines about how an ICL should act in family law cases. If you think the ICL in your case has done something wrong, you can ask us to investigate your complaint.

     

    More information

    National Legal Aid
    Best for Kids - What happens when your parents go to court?
    • Posters and interactive videos to help explain the role of an Independent Children's Lawyer.
    For children under 10: Poster Video
    For children over 10: Poster Video
    Family Court of WA

    Disclaimer

    The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.