If you are experiencing a separation, and there are issues in dispute with regard to your children and parenting arrangement, you may hear about a “Family Report”.
In this article, we will discuss what a Family Report is, who prepares it, when it is required and the process.
What is a Family Report?
A Family Report is a document prepared by a Family Consultant. This Family Consultant can be appointed privately by the parents of the children, or by the Court.
A Family Report provides an independent assessment of the issues that may be in dispute and can assist the Judge in determining arrangements for the children. Family Reports can also help the parties to reach an agreement between themselves.
The best interests of the children will be the main focus of the Family Consultant when preparing the Family Report. After consideration and exploration of all of the family’s specific circumstances and any relevant issues to the case, the Family Consultant will make recommendations for arrangements that will best suit the children’s care, welfare and development.
If the Family Report has been Court Ordered, it must be formally released by the Court before the parties can receive it. It is a confidential document, that cannot be shown to anyone except for the parties to the matter and their lawyers, without permission from the Court.
What is a Family Consultant?
Family Consultants are recognised as Court experts with regard to children’s matters. They are an independent qualified person, whose recommendations the Judge can rely on when determining what arrangements are in the children’s best interests.
They are qualified social workers or psychologists with experience in working with children and families.
What is the Process?
If a Family Report has been Court Ordered, the individual or their lawyer will receive contact from the Court advising of the scheduled appointment time and location.
You must attend this appointment. If you do not attend your scheduled appointment, the Report may not be able to be completed by the next Court event. This could result in delay, and additional costs.
The Family Consultant will conduct interviews with relevant parties to a case. If they feel it necessary, they may also interview other third parties e.g., partners or grandparents.
The children will have their own separate interview to their parents. The children are given the opportunity to convey their views and wishes. This, of course, will depend on the age of the child and whether the Family Consultant deems this to be appropriate. The Family Consultant usually observes the interactions between a child and their parent in a separate session.
What Information should be provided to the Family Consultant?
If the matter is in Court, the Family Consultant will usually require copies of all the material that has been filed, and the Court may also direct that they have access to subpoenaed material.
In some circumstances, the Family Consultant may also require permission to contact the children’s schools, doctors or any other relevant professional for further information.
The important information that the Family Consultant will require/gather is:
1. Past and present parenting arrangements;
2. The issues in dispute;
3. Each parties’ parenting capacity;
4. The relationship between the parents and the children; and
5. Whether there are any risks to the children’s wellbeing.
Is the Information provided, confidential?
Short answer is no. What is said to the Family Consultant is not confidential. Any information provided to the Family Consultant can be produced in Court. In fact, the Family Consultant has a duty to include all relevant information in the Report. They may also be called to give evidence in Court.
How much does a Family Report cost?
If the Family Report has been Ordered and appointed by the Court, there is no cost to the parties.
As mentioned, the parties can appoint a private Family Consultant to undertake an assessment of the family and prepare a Family Report. There will be a cost for this, that should be shared between the parties. The costs will vary based on the Practitioner.
What weight is given to the Family Report? What if I don’t agree with it?
It is important to note, that the Court is not bound by the recommendations made in a Family Report. The Family Report is one piece of evidence that the Court will consider when making their determination.
If you disagree with the Report and want to challenge the contents, you will need to call the Family Consultant as a witness, for cross examination.