1. The family courts and child protection interface

Family courts

The Family Court of Australia is a federal (Commonwealth) court established under the Family Law Act 1975. It deals with a range of matters arising out of relationship breakdowns, including divorce, property settlement and the care of children of a relationship. In deciding whether to make a particular parenting order, a family court must regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia and state Magistrates Courts also have jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975 to deal with children's matters. For the purpose of this procedure, the term 'family courts' refers to the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and state Magistrates Courts.

A family court application is referred to as a parenting application in the family law jurisdiction. A family court order is otherwise referred to as a parenting order in the family law jurisdiction.

The family courts' jurisdiction includes:

Further information about family courts is available on the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Law Courts websites.

The department

The department has the statutory authority to investigate allegations that a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm, assess a child's need for protection or take other actions considered appropriate. The family courts do not have the expertise, role or resources to perform this function. Whether or not there are proceedings in a family court, the department has the lead responsibility to ensure the child's safety and need for protection. A child of separated parents has the same right to protection and to receive services from the department as any other child.

The interface between the department with the family courts is guided by this procedure and the Protocol between the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and the Department of Child Safety Queensland.

Consider the level of intervention in family court proceedings

Where matters come before the family courts and the department holds relevant information related to child protection matters involving any of the relevant parties, it is highly desirable that this information is made available to the court at the earliest opportunity.

Whenever consideration is given to intervening in proceedings and prior to making a decision to do so, departmental staff must consult Court Services, about the matter. Costs and other responsibilities may be incurred by the department intervening, including Crown Law representation.

In general, the more intrusive the departmental intervention, the more significant the level of intervention in family court proceedings - refer to the Intervention diagram and the Key factors for the Department when considering the level of intervention in a Family Law Court Proceeding.

When a child is in need of protection and the department is considering intervening in family court proceedings, refer to 6. Respond to a child in need of protection.