In matters involving children, the Court may decide to Order a family report. This report is prepared to assist the Judge at a Final Hearing. The family report may be ordered when the Court is listing a matter for a Final Hearing, or at another stage in the case and upon the Application of the party.
Family reports are generally written by a court appointed Family Consultant or a private psychologist or social worker who is experienced in preparing family reports. The report writer will interview all parties, their children and anyone else who may be involved substantially in the lives of the children such as step-parents or extended family. Parties will generally be interviewed separately and, depending on the age of the children involved, the report writer may speak with the children on their own or simply observe them in the presence of the parties.
The report writer will generally make recommendations about who the children should live with and/or how much time they should spend with the other parent. If there are psychological or psychiatric issues relating to either parent or the children, these will usually be identified by the report writer who will make recommendations as to how they should be addressed or whether further investigation (such as a psychiatric assessment) is required.
The report will be used as evidence in a case.
The report is provided to the parties before the Final Hearing and each party has the right to question the report writer about the contents of the family report.
Whilst the Judge will not be bound to follow any recommendations that may be contained in the family report, the family report is generally very persuasive.
The family report is produced as a written report. Once it is prepared it will be released by the Court under specific directions protecting the confidentiality of the report and for example, it may be that the report cannot be disclosed to persons other than the parties and their legal representatives.
The Court’s discretion to Order a Family Report is extremely wide and ultimately there is no general rule as to when a report will be ordered.
Some Judges will ask for a general report on the welfare of the children whilst others may specify with some precision what matters they want the report to include. On occasions Judges have requested reports solely on the issue of the child’s wishes.
For the purposes of the preparation of the report the report writer will normally have an appointment with each of the parties in the proceedings and the children. Usually the family report writer will have a separate appointment with each of the parties. After these first appointments they usually wish to see the children on their own or in the presence of the parties.
If you have been ordered to attend family report interviews or you believe a family report woudl assist in your case, contact one of our family lawyers to obtain some confidential expert advice.
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