When parties are unable to reach an agreement about the care arrangements for the children a family report may be written to assist the Court in making a decision about what is best for the children. The report is written by an independent family consultant who is a qualified social worker , psychologist, or psychiatrist with skills and experience in working with children and families post separation. They provide an assessment of the issues in the case, with the child’s best interests as the focus of this analysis.
Who engages and pays for the family report writer?
Usually, the Court will order the report (pursuant to section 62G of the Family Law Act 1975) from a Court Child Expert, although the parties may privately engage a consultant, either prior to court proceedings or during court proceedings.
The court can fund the report at no cost to the parties or alternatively sometimes the Court may order the parties contribute to the cost if they have the means to do so. Private family reports are always paid for by the parties.
How does the report writer gather information for a family report?
The family consultant through individual interviews gathers information from the parties, the children and other significant family members. Children can express their own views and wishes if they would like to. Usually interviews are completed at the office of the family consultant, not at the home of the parties.
The consultant might also observe the child’s interactions with parents or other important people (like grandparents, partners, siblings and step or half siblings).
What information will the family consultant need to prepare the Family Report?
The family consultant may request your permission to contact teachers, doctors or other relevant professionals for more information about your child/ren. The Court may also direct that the family consultant have access to any material that has been filed with the Court or provided to the Court by subpoenae.
What happens after the interviews and observations?
The family consultant will collate relevant information they have gathered in the family report. All the parties will receive a copy of the family report. Sometimes, matters may settle as a result of the findings in the family report and the parties may agree to consent parenting orders.
If the matter proceeds to hearing, the consultant may be required to give evidence in Court.
Who will see the family report?
Once the report writer has finished writing the family report, a copy will be given to:
- the court
- the independent children’s lawyer (if one has been appointed)
- you or your lawyer (if you have one)
- the person you are in dispute with or their lawyer (if they have one).
No one else will be given or shown a copy of the report, unless an order is made by the Court allowing the report to be provided to another person or organisation; this is protected under s121 Family Law Act 1975.
What if I don’t agree with the Family Report?
It is important to remember that this is not the only evidence the court will consider. The Court is also not bound by any recommendations made in the report. This evidence can be challenged at court by cross-examining the report writer and asking them questions about the contents of the report. Other parties will have the same opportunity to do this if they are called as witness.
If you would like to discuss your specific situation further with our experienced team of family lawyers, please contact us here or phone (07) 3548 5868.