When parents are before a Court seeking Orders regarding arrangements for their children the Judge will often Order a Family Report.
Family Reports are written by Family Consultants who are trained psychologists and/or social workers who specialise in child and family issues after separation and divorce. The report is an important document that will be relied upon as evidence. It will recommend what will best meet the needs of the children after separation.
Parties or other persons interviewed for a Family Report have no right to legal representation during the interviews. Everything that is said during interviews can be recorded in the Family Report. If a person does not attend the interviews this will be noted in a Family Report. If a party fails to attend, an Order may also be made to pay the other parties costs if the matter is adjourned.
A Family Report is important because it covers all the issues in dispute, the past and present living arrangements of the children, the parenting capacity of the parents and any new partners and also the wishes of the children. Due to the personal nature of the report it cannot be shown to any person other than the parties and their legal representatives.
Family Reports will often make recommendations to the Court that will not support one or both party’s applications before a Court and lawyers are often asked what impact a Family Report will have on their matter.
Justices Coleman, Thackray & Le Poer Trench of the Family Court of Australia examined the role and power of a Family Consultant in preparing Family Reports in the recent case of Tryon & Clutterbuck. The Court said that the authors of Family Reports do not exercise any “power” in preparing a Family Report and do not make “findings” in the sense that the Court makes findings when the matter proceeds to a Hearing.
The Court found in Tryon & Clutterbuck that there is a significant difference between the decision making powers of a Court and the expert opinion evidence contained within a Family Report. The Report is provided to the Court as evidence to assist the Court in their decision making process.
What impact, if any, the Family Report has upon the exercise of a Court’s discretion will only be determined after the author of the report has been cross-examined and the report is considered with all other relevant evidence. The author of a Family report will be required to attend court for cross examination if notice is given at least 14 days in advance of a Hearing.
Therefore the role of a Family Report is to provide the Court with an expert opinion and it is one of many evidentiary matters that may influence a Courts determination of a matter.
If you have a matter that is currently before the Court you should obtain legal advice to ensure that all evidence is available to the Court so that the decision made by the Court reflects what is in the best interests of your child.
If you have any questions, please contact our Family Law Team.