Family Reports in Parenting Matters
In parenting disputes, the court will often order parties to attend upon a Family Consultant for the purposes of obtaining a Family Report. Family Reports are written by court-appointed family consultants who are usually highly qualified counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists.
What is a Family Report?
A Family Report is an independent assessment of relevant issues within the parenting dispute. They will usually contain recommendations for the court to consider in respect to the child’s future care, welfare and development. This includes recommendations as to who the children should live with, any risks that are present and how they should be mitigated, and what time the child should spend with the other parent.
A Family Report may also contain information about the following issues:
- Any views expressed by the child;
- The nature of the relationship between the child and each parent;
- The likely effect of any change in care arrangements on the child;
- Any practical difficulties which may present for the child spending time with each parent;
- Any risks – such as allegations of drug abuse, family violence or alcohol abuse;
- The attitude of each parent towards the child and the responsibilities of parenthood;
- The capacity of each parent to provide the child – including the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing; and
- The willingness and ability of each parent to encourage and facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent.
The above issues are just some of the issues that may present in any given parenting dispute. The facts and circumstances of each case will determine what issues the Family Consultant will need to consider. The primary focus for the court, as well as the Family Consultant, is what is in the child’s best interests.
How is a report prepared?
The report is collated and prepared after interviews with each parent and each child (depending on the children’s ages). The Family Report writer will also be provided with a copy of all court documents filed by each party in the proceedings. In some cases, the Family Report writer will also be given information from subpoenas or may make enquiries with external bodies such as the child’s school or general practitioner.
It should be remembered that the information you may provide to the Family Report writer is not confidential. If it is relevant to the proceedings, it will be included in the report at the report writer’s discretion. This process also does not include the parties’ respective lawyers. Each party must attend on their own behalf. Following the release of the Family Report, the court will usually release the report to the parties or their respective lawyers. The report must be kept confidential. It is an offence to publish or distribute a Family Report.
How do I challenge a report?
It can be difficult for parties to read a Family Report which describes and comments on a person’s demeanour and interactions with their child, and which then makes recommendations about what is in the best interests of the child. It is important to remember that:
- although persuasive, a Family Report’s recommendations are not determinative in any parenting dispute;
- a judge is not bound to accept the report;
- although the report writer’s expertise and experience lend weight to the report, the judge can weigh all the evidence in making a decision, and can observe the behaviour of the parties in court;
- a lawyer may have the opportunity, during a cross examination, to question the report writer about the basis of their recommendations.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Taking the next step and contacting a family lawyer can be scary. Our lawyers will make you feel comfortable so you can talk about your situation. But first, ask yourself, Do I really need a lawyer?