Australia: Family Reports: what you need to know

A Family Report is a report prepared by a Family Consultant which provides the Court with an independent assessment of the issues in a parenting matter, which are the subject of litigation. A Family Report offers an independent view of the matters in dispute, which ultimately assists the Court in reaching a decision as to the arrangements which are in the best interests of the child/ren involved in the dispute.

What is the purpose of a family report?

Family Reports are prepared when the Court requires assistance to make a determination, due to disputes relating to the appropriate parenting arrangements for the child/ren. The family report writer's role is to make observations and recommendations about the care and living arrangements which would be in the best interests of the child/ren.

Whilst Family Reports are prepared when the matter is already involved in litigation, it is often hoped that the independent assessment which the report provides will help parties reach an agreement on their own and avoid the matter having to continue through the Court system.

Who prepares the Family Report?

A Family Report is typically prepared by a Family Consultant who is appointed by the Court and is usually a qualified Psychologist or Social Worker and has relevant experience in matters involving children and their needs.

It is important to understand that the Family Consultant cannot make findings of fact. For example, where there are allegations of family violence, the Family Consultant cannot conclude that they occurred.

What is the process?

Following the commission of a Family Report, the parties will receive a date for interviews to be conducted. Interviews are conducted with each parent, and the Family Consultant also has an opportunity to observe each parent's interaction with the child/ren. If there are other family members or persons whom the child/ren may live with (such as a new partner or grandparent), then they may also be interviewed. Depending on the child/ren's age, they may also be interviewed personally.

In addition to the face to face interviews, the Family Consultant also has the opportunity to read any material before the Court (such as Affidavit's and subpoena material). As the Family Report is an independent and objective assessment, both parties to the dispute (and an Independent Children's Lawyer if relevant) must be aware of the material which the Family Consultant will review.

The Family Consultant typically addresses matters including but not limited to the following:

  • The issues in dispute;
  • Care arrangements throughout the relationship and post separation;
  • The parenting capacity of both parties;
  • The child/ren's relationship with other significant people (such as adult siblings, grandparents, stepparents etc);
  • The child/ren's views or wishes;
  • The effect of any change in circumstance on the child/ren;
  • Any practical difficulties with the care arrangements; and,
  • Any potential risks or harm to the child/ren.

Following the interviews, the Family Consultant will prepare the report, which is then sent to the Court (usually at least 4 weeks later). The Court will formally release the report to the parties (and it is particularly important that the report is not shown to any other parties, particularly, potential witnesses) without a specific order of the Court, that includes other people who may have been interviewed as part of the report process.

What happens if I do not agree with the Family Consultant's recommendations?

It is not uncommon for parties to take issue with the observations or recommendations made in a Family Report. Parties must understand that whilst the Family Report is important, it is still an opinion and the Court is not bound by any recommendations made. Further, if the matter proceeds to a final hearing, the Family Consultant can be called as a witness and can be cross-examined on any matters in dispute (as their report is considered their evidence).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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