Family Reports – beyond “He said/She said”

This is the second of our articles on seeking independent evidence in your parenting dispute – please see our first article on Child Impact Reports..

If you have a parenting matter in Court or you are thinking about commencing proceedings, you might be wondering what independent evidence, including on the impact of the dispute on children, is available to the Court to assist in making a decision about your parenting matter.

 What is a Family Report?

If you have a matter in Court, the Court would normally seek the assistance of a Family Consultant to prepare a Family Report.

A Family Report is an independent family assessment which is usually in the form of a comprehensive  report based on interviews by the Family Consultant with each of the parents, the children, and each parent in the presence of the children. The report will explore a number of issues depending on the situation and circumstances of your family.

The Judge who will hear your matter, will never meet your children but will ultimately have to make decisions about your children.

The Report may assist you and the Court in making a decision as to the parenting arrangements on a final basis. For information about what reports are used to assist the Court on an interim basis, please read our article Child Impact Reports.

Who is a Family Consultant?

A Family Consultant are qualified psychologists or social workers who are experienced in dealing with child and family issues after separation.

A Family Consultant may be an employee of the Court (i.e. Court Child Expert), or a private practitioner who has the same qualifications and expertise recognised by the Court (this person is usually referred to as a Regulation 7 Family Consultant).

What is the process involved with a Family Report?

The Family Consultant will have access to, or be provided with, all of the documents filed by the parties in the proceedings. They may also have access to any material subpoenaed in your matter.

The Family Consultant will usually conduct a series of interviews over the course of a day or multiples days.

They will have individual interviews with you and the other parents, as well as any other significant people in the children’s lives, such as adult siblings, partners, grandparents or step or half siblings.

Depending on the ages and needs of your child, the Family Consultant will meet with them separately and give them an opportunity to talk about their feelings and experiences.

After the interviews are concluded, the Family Consultant will prepare the Family Report which will then be distributed to the parties.

The process on the part of the psychologist is forensic not therapeutic. The expert will gather information and then provide his/her expert opinion about the case.

What will the Family Report include?

A Family Consultant will usually gather information about a number of matters, and they may request your permission to speak with teachers, doctors, or other professionals about your child.

The Family Consultant will generally gather information about your family, for example:

  • The issues in dispute;
  • The historical and current parenting arrangements;
  • The proposed changes to the parenting arrangements by the parents;
  • The capacity of the parents to care for the child;
  • Any risk allegations or potential risks to the child; and
  • The child’s expressed wishes and relationships with any significant people in their life.

Any information you provide to the Family Consultant is not confidential.

A Family Report is only one source of evidence for the Court to consider when making a decision. If there are matters in the Report that you do not agree with, you should seek legal advice about the best way to deal with those issues.

How do I get a Family Report?

A Family Report is ordered by the Court and are usually ordered when matters are at the final hearing stages of proceedings. Not all matters require a final hearing, and a significant portion of matters will settle without the need for a final hearing and the Judge to make a decision about the parenting arrangements.

If there is agreement between the parties, there may be consent for the Report, or otherwise, the Court may make an Order for the Report on an application of a party.

Where can I find more information?

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia website has a number of fact sheets and information available.

How can we help?

If you or a loved one would like legal advice in relation to a family law matter or a Family Report, please contact our Family Law Team to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced family law solicitors. 

For more information, contact Mariah Tennant-Breust

p: +61 2 6206 1300 | e: mtennant-breust@elringtons.com.au

This article provides current information as at the time of publishing. It does not constitute legal advice and Elringtons is not responsible for any reliance upon its contents. It is important that you seek legal advice to your unique situation.