A family report is a document written by a family consultant appointed by the Family Court. It provides an independent assessment of the issues in the case and can help the judicial officer hearing the case to make decisions about arrangements for the children. It may also help the parties to reach an agreement. In preparing the report, the family consultant considers the families’ circumstances, explores issues relating to the case and recommends arrangements that will best meet the children’s future care, welfare and developmental needs.
The best interests of the children are the main focus of the report. The report must be formally released by the Court before the parties can receive it. It cannot be shown to anyone other than the parties to the court case and their lawyers unless specifically specified in the report. It cannot be shown to other people, such as other family members, without the Court giving permission for this to happen. This is the case even for people who may have been interviewed, but are not a party to the court case. The family report is the best way for the Court to receive independent evidence about the children’s wishes.
Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists, with skill and experience in working with children and families. They are appointed by the Family Court to help parents and judicial officers achieve the best outcomes for children. Family consultants are recognised as court experts in relation to children’s matters.
In order to prepare a family report, the Court will order that you and your child or children attend specific appointments, this means that you must attend. If you do not attend, the report may not be able to be completed by the date set for the next hearing, which may result in delay and additional cost. Family consultants are obliged to tell the Court if you do not attend. Appointments can generally only be changed in exceptional circumstances.
The family consultant will conduct a series of interviews in one day or over a few days. They will have individual interviews with you and the other party. They may also interview other significant people, such as adult siblings, step and half siblings, partners or grandparents. Your child will be seen separately from any adults (except in special circumstances). The children will be given an opportunity to express their views and wishes, but no child will be expected to do so. The family consultant may also observe the interaction between the children and each parent in separate observation sessions.
The family consultant may request your permission to contact teachers, doctors or other relevant professionals for more information about your children. The Court may also direct that the family consultant have access to material which have been subpoenaed. Generally the family consultant will gather information about:
- The issues in dispute
- Past and present parenting arrangements
- The parenting capacity of each party
- Your children’s relationships with significant people
- Your children’s wishes and views,
- Any risks to the children.
You or your lawyer will receive a copy of the family report prior to the next hearing date. It may be possible for matters to settle based on what is contained in the family report.