Unfortunately, instances of family violence and child abuse does occur and the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (the Act) recognising this reality, has made notification to a prescribed child welfare authority mandatory for certain professionals if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child has been abused, or is at risk of abuse as outlined in ss 67ZA(2) of the Act.
Professionals required to report instances of child abuse
The class of persons required to mandatorily report child abuse if in the course of performing their duties or functions, has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child has been abused, or is at risk of being abused are the following classes of professionals:
- Registrars or a Deputy Registrar of a Registry of the Family Court of Australia;
- Registrars or a Deputy Registrar of the Family Court of Western Australia;
- Registrars of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia;
- family consultants;
- family counsellors;
- family dispute resolution practitioners;
- lawyers independently representing a child's interests.
Beyond federal legislation, the States and Territories also requires teachers, doctors, other medical and mental health care professionals, and community service employees to report child abuse if there are reasonable grounds for concern, irrespective of any confidentiality obligations.
“Interested person” and mandatory reporting obligations
In addition to certain persons, an “interested person” in proceedings is also compelled to report occurrences of child abuse. An “interested person” is anyone who is a party to the proceedings, and who is independent of the child’s lawyer.
When looking at the reporting requirements in relation to an “interested person”, the provisions set out two options. Section 67Z of the Act requires an “interested person” who has made an allegation about actual or a risk of abuse to file a “Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)” to the court.
Alternatively, if child abuse occurs, or would occur due to exposure to family violence, an “interested person” is required to file a Form 4, which would then be served on the alleged perpetrator even if the person was not a party in the case. The Form 4 must also be served to the independent child’s lawyer.
What should be included in a Form 4 application: an “interested person” who intends to file a “Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence (Form 4)” should include evidence detailing the alleged actions per Family Law Rule 2.04D. The form should detail the alleged abuse, whether any attempts at dispute resolution were undertaken, any advice received on community “services and options” if they were available to the victim, and if there are any risks in a delay of application.
Under certain circumstances besides a Form 4, an “Application in a Case” application may be required for interim protection orders.