In this series we will discuss the fundamental basics of Family Law, providing information and guidance that may answer questions you have throughout the Family Law process. This week we cover what a Single Expert Witness is in children’s matters.
In Family Court proceedings, there can be three types of expert witnesses which are an expert witness, a single expert witness and a Court expert. An expert witness is a witness who is called by one party to provide evidence for the benefit of that party, while a Single Expert Witness is an expert which is appointed and instructed jointly by both parties. A Court expert is an expert who is appointed by the Court to provided evidence in an independent capacity.
Requesting the appointment of a Single Expert Witness
If the parties agree that expert evidence make help to resolve an issue or issues in their matter they may agree to jointly appoint a Single Expert to prepare a report in their matter. The parties must obtain consent from the proposed Single Expert before the Court is able to appoint them.
Issues to be determined by the Single Expert Witness
The Single Expert Witness will be provided with instructions detailing the issues about which their opinion is sought; these are known as the “terms of reference”. Some examples of the issues that may be assessed are:
- The maturity of the children;
- How the dispute between the parents is impacting the children;
- The nature of the risk of psychological or physical harm/abuse posed by either parent;
- The risk of neglect or harm posed to the children as a result of any mental health conditions of either party;
- The relationship of the children with each party and other significant people (ie parents’ new partners, grandparents, etc);
- The views the children have about where they should live and what time they should spend with each parent;
- Whether these views have been influenced by either party;
- The capacity of each party to provide for the physical, social, psychological and emotional needs of the children;
- The capacity of each party to encourage the children’s relationship with the other parent; and
- The capacity of each parent to act protectively in the interests of the children if the other party or another person poses a risk to the children.
In the report prepared by the Single Expert they will provide recommendations about appropriate agreements for your child or children and the Single Expert can also make recommendations for therapeutic or counselling services for your child or children and either party.
What happens once a Single Expert Witness is appointed?
The Single Expert will contact you and the other party to make appointments for assessments.. In the event that either party contacts the Single Expert, a copy of these communications should be provided to the other party and if the Independent Children’s Family Lawyer if one is appointed. In most cases, both you and the other party will be required to provide the Single Expert with the names and addresses of all medical practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists you and the children have attended since separation. If requested, it may also be necessary to provide authorities allowing these professionals to release information concerning you or your children.
What happens during the appointment?
Generally the Single Expert will meet with each party by themselves and they will also meet with each party with the child or children to observe how they interact with the children. Depending on the agreed terms of reference you may also be asked to complete a Personality Assessment Inventory or another similar questionnaire which will assist the Single Expert in assessing any personality issues or clinical concerns. If the Single Expert holds the view that the children are mature enough to answer questions the Single Expert will also meet with them separately to interview them.
Who pays the fees of the Single Expert Witness?
Generally the parties are equally liable to pay for the reasonable fees and expenses incurred in preparing a report. However the parties may agree that one party meets the cost of the Single Expert at first instance or the Court may Order that one party is solely responsibly for the cost of the Single Expert.
This is general information only, and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall 1800 609 945 or email us now.