Explain to me…the family report process?
A family report is a written report to help parents and courts determine parenting arrangements for children.
The report is prepared by a professional person who has experience in child welfare matters and practices as either a social worker or psychologist. They are usually referred to as a Family Consultant.
Who can prepare a family report?
A Family Consultant is usually a social worker or psychologist who has been appointed by the parents, the Court or an Independent Children’s Lawyer to prepare a report for consideration by the parents or the Court.
The Family Consultant will have expertise in working with children and families, and is considered to be an independent person even though they may be appointed by the Court.
The Family Consultant’s job is to provide independent evidence to help the Court make a determination about the most appropriate parenting arrangements for children.
Once the decision has been made for a family report to be prepared, the Family Consultant will make arrangements to interview the parents, the children and any other significant people in the life of the children.
This can include current partners, and other members of the respective households. The Family Consultant will also observe the children with each of the parents.
The Family Consultant’s primary focus is to collect information about:
- the relationship of the children with both parents and any significant people in the children’s lives;
- the views or wishes of the children (if they are able to express a view);
- information about the children’s personal history, parenting arrangements to date and emotional attachments to significant people in the children’s lives; and
- information about the family dynamic during your relationship with your former partner and since separation, including:
- family history;
- significant issues which may have affected the children;
- information about domestic or family violence;
- time that the children have spent with you or your former partner;
- the current parenting arrangements for the children and any proposals that you or your former partner may have; and
- your approach and attitude to responsibility as a parent, including whether you or your former partner are able to promote and foster a relationship between the children and both parents.
How is the information collected?
The Family Consultant will conduct interviews, which may occur either at the Family Court or at their office.
Generally, the Family Consultant will interview:
- both parents;
- the partners of each parent (if applicable);
- the children; and
- other members of your household.
Depending on the age of the children, the Family Consultant may interview them to determine their wishes or views. While the children may express these wishes or views, it is a matter for the Court to determine whether any views expressed are in the best interests of the children. The Court may make parenting arrangements that are contrary to the wishes of the children.
The interviews will normally take place at the Family Consultant’s professional offices. There may be some very limited circumstances in which interviews take place by telephone or in the home of the parties.
What to expect
The Family Consultant will conduct a series of interviews with:
- you and your former partner, either separately or together;
- the children alone, the children with you and the children with your former partner;
- the children and any other members of your household; and
- other relevant professionals such as teachers or contact centre staff
The Family Consultant will observe the interaction between you and the children and your former partner and the children to understand the emotional attachments and family dynamic between yourself, your partner and the children. The Family Consultant may take notes or record the interviews for the purpose of collating the report.
You should be aware that any information, comments or discussions you have with the Family Consultant may be recorded and included in the report. These interviews or any information provided are not considered to be confidential.
The Family Consultant will include all sources of information used to compile the report. They will have access to:
- the affidavit material of any of the parties or other witnesses filed in the proceedings;
- copies of any subpoenaed documents held by the Court in the proceedings;
- any information provided by both parties at the interviews; and
- any further information that may be obtained on authority from both parties or an Independent Children’s Lawyer.
The Family Consultant will produce a detailed report, which will generally include:
- a history of the relationship;
- a summary of the issues in dispute;
- the past and current parenting arrangements for the children;
- the parenting capacity of each parent;
- the significant relationships between the children and other people in their lives;
- any wishes or views expressed by the children; and
- recommendations as to parenting arrangements including parental responsibilities, where and with whom the children should live, and what arrangements should be put in place for the children to spend time with or communicate with both parents or other significant people in their lives.
When will the report be released?
Generally, a written report will be provided within three to six weeks after the interviews if the report has been prepared by a private Family Consultant. If the Family Consultant has been appointed by the Court or by an Independent Children’s Lawyer, the report may take between two to three months to be released from the date of the interviews.
Clarification of the family report
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to seek clarification from the report writer about certain issues in accordance with the particular rules of the Court. This may include where certain information has not been considered by the Family Consultant or where circumstances have changed since the interview process took place.
Any information obtained by the Family Consultant is reportable, and the Family Consultant may be called to give evidence at a hearing to help the Court understand the report and any recommendations the report writer makes.
Considering the recommendations of the report
The Court will then consider the recommendations made by the Family Consultant. The Court is not bound to accept the recommendations made by the Family Consultant. A judge has discretion to make arrangements for the children based on the best interests of the children which may not be in line with any recommendations contained in the report.
It may be necessary at a hearing for the Family Consultant to be cross-examined as to the content of their report and any assessments they have made.
Cost of the family report
Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to contribute to the cost of the report.
Generally, if the Court appoints a Family Consultant it will pay the cost of preparing the report.
If an Independent Children’s Lawyer is appointed and you are a private client of a law firm, you will be required to contribute to the cost of the report.
If the Family Consultant is appointed by both parties by consent, the parties generally share the costs of the family report.