If you and your former partner haven’t been able to agree in relation to parenting matters, and an application has been made to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court (“the Court”) for orders in relation to parenting, then the Court, the Independent Children’s Lawyer (if one has been appointed) or any of the parties to your case may seek that a Family Report be prepared in your matter. A Family Report is a piece of evidence that the Court considers when making decisions about your children, their living arrangements and what is in their best interests.
Throughout this post we will look at what a Family Report is, who prepares it, the process involved and what to do if you don’t agree with the contents of the Family Report.
What is a Family Report?
A Family Report provides information about your family, the children and both parents to help the Judge identify what is in your children’s best interests.
It may include recommendations in relation to the following matters:
The children’s living arrangements, including who they should live with, or spend time with;
Parental responsibility and decision making in relation to the children;
Any risk or safety issues; and
Courses and services that may assist in supporting parents and children.
When is a Family Report ordered by the Court?
Early in your matter a Child Impact Report may be prepared by a Court Children’s Expert, for the Court following a short meeting with each parent and possibly the children. This report assists the Court by clearly identifying the issues in dispute, the impact the dispute is having on the children and making recommendations in relation to the progress of the matter.
If your matter continues in the Court, then the Court may order that a Family Report be prepared. Family Reports are usually prepared in the lead up to a final hearing and provide a more thorough exploration into the parenting issues in dispute, the history of the relationships between the children and the parties and provides long term recommendations in relation to the matter.
Who writes the Family Report?
A Family Report is prepared by a family consultant. Family consultants employed by the Court are referred to as “Court Children’s Experts”. External family consultants are appointed by the Court and referred to as “Regulation 7 Family Consultants“. Both are referred to as “family consultants” when preparing the Family Report. Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists, with skill and experience in working with children and families. If a family consultant is appointed by the Court for an internal assessment there is no additional cost to either party.
However, for a number of reasons, for example if a matter is urgent, parties may ask a private professional to complete a family assessment and provide the Court with a report which may be admitted by the Court as evidence. A private assessment report is paid for by the parties. Private assessments can be prepared by specialist social workers, psychologists and sometimes psychiatrists in private practice. These individuals are also experienced in dealing with children, families and the court processes involved in family law matters.
The Family Report process
After an order for a Family Report is made, a number of interviews will take place over one day or a few days. You do not need to be present during each interview. The process will usually involve an interview with you, an interview with the other parent and an interview and/or observations between the parents and the children.
The family consultant will notify the parties in relation to the interview times and days. They may also request that other family members attend to be interviewed (for example, partners, grandparents or stepchildren). These interviews may take place at court or at the family consultant’s private practice.
Depending on the children’s age, maturity and willingness to participate, they will usually be given the opportunity to be seen separately from their parents. If the children are interviewed separately, they will be given the opportunity to express their views, but they won’t be pressured to do this if they don’t wish to.
How to prepare for the Family Report
There is no one correct way to prepare for a Family Report interview, but you should keep in mind the following:
The interviews are not confidential, anything you say may be included in the Family Report.
Attend your appointment. If you are unable to attend your appointment for any reason, then you should contact your lawyer or the family consultant as soon as you possibly can to see if you are able to reschedule.
Think about how you present yourself to the family consultant, they won’t just be considering the things you say.
Try to remain relaxed and honest. The family consultant’s job can involve some exploration into your history, they will have access to your court documents, the other parent’s court documents and even possibly some information obtained by subpoena from third parties, like the Police. Please also remember they are not on anyone’s side they are simply there to assist the Court in reaching a decision.
Review your Affidavit material before you go in for your interview to refresh your memory in relation to what you have already said.
Don’t coach your children. Family consultants can spot this. Subject to any orders in place, you should discuss why you are going to see the family consultant with your children.
Can you object to the Family Report or disagree with the recommendations
You can disagree with the recommendations in a Family Report and challenge them during the final hearing in your matter. The Family Report is an important piece of evidence, but it is only one piece of evidence that the Court considers when making its decision. The Court is not required to follow the recommendations of the Family Report.
During the final hearing the family consultant may be cross-examined, questioned, in relation to their recommendations and elaborate on the basis for their recommendations. If there are problems with the Family Report, then you should let your lawyer know so they can discuss ways to address this with you. Please also remember that your Family Report is confidential and should not be disclosed to anyone else, even other members of your family.
If you are facing a Family Report interview or other child dispute, the Family Law team at Turnbull Hill Lawyers are here to support you. Please feel free to call us or contact today to arrange a consultation with one of our lawyers.