Missing children

There are occasions when a child involved in family law proceedings cannot be located, which may result in a party, usually a parent or guardian, from being unable to have (court-ordered) contact with the child because their whereabouts is unknown.

A party involved in the proceedings can make an application to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the FCFCOA) to seek a recovery order.

Applications may also be made to the FCFCOA seeking a publication order. In general terms, publication orders allow photographs and certain details of a party and case to be published, with the aim of locating the missing child. Without a publication order, section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975 prevents the publication of details of a case that would lead to the identification of a party or witness involved in the family law proceedings.

To view photographs and details of current cases in which children are missing and a publication order has been issued, please refer to:

Missing children – Publication orders made in the FCFCOA.

Publication orders

The publishing of names and other identifying information of people and witnesses involved in family law proceedings is subject to restrictions that are set out in section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975. It an offence to publish details of proceedings or images that may identify the people involved in cases under the family law act.

In limited circumstances, a publication order or another section 121 exemption may be made by the FCFCOA, that lift some of those restrictions, to allow media outlets to publicise certain details of a case.

Publication orders are issued by a judicial officer, and are generally only made if an application has been made to the FCFCOA seeking such orders. An application seeking a publication order is generally done by a parent or guardian who is seeking public assistance to help locate their child.

Publication orders vary from case to case, but usually set out:

  • what the media can report regarding a missing child and the person they are presumed to be with
  • photographs and interviews that are permitted to be published
  • Court approval requirements prior to publication, and
  • what can be reported when the child is found.

What can the media report about missing children?

The media can only report information and publish photos as set out in the publication order and/or in any official court media release, and in addition, orders often require FCFCOA approval of the report prior to publication. Refer to more information on reporting on family law matters or for general information about what can be reported, contact the Court’s Director - Media and Public Affairs.

Please note that court staff, including the Director - Media and Public Affairs, cannot provide legal advice. They can only provide guidance in relation to publication orders.

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