Often, the Family Court is asked to make decisions about who the children will live with based on what is in the best interests of the child or children and a presumption that both parents will have equal shared parental responsibility for the child or children.
In these circumstances, the court may appoint a single expert and ask the expert (usually a social worker or psychologist) to make a report. In making a report, the single expert will usually interview each parent and the children individually, unless the children are too young or too immature. The single expert will consider each parents’ positive aspects towards parenting, so that both parents’ parenting abilities are evaluated. The children must also be assessed to determine what their needs are (developmentally, psychologically and cognitively), to inform the single expert about the parenting style that is best suited to each child.
In addition, the single expert will observe interactions between the child and each parent.
In assessing and evaluating all of the above, the single expert is in effect assessing each parents’ effectiveness as a parent.
Conversations with a consultant are not confidential and anything said can end up in the report. Ultimately, a report is prepared for the court and circulated to both parties. Whilst the court is not bound to follow the recommendations in the report, as it is an independent report it has a large degree of weight and influence.
If a single expert report is ordered…
The cost for a private report is usually somewhere between $3,000 – $5,000 and the cost is usually shared by both parties.
You should only communicate with the single expert in writing and you should provide a copy to the other party of all your written communications with the single expert.
Interviews with the single expert usually take place on a weekday and can take some time, so you will need to make sure you have made the appropriate arrangements so that you are not pressed for time on the day.
Prior to your interview with the single expert, you should arrange a meeting with your lawyer so that the process can be discussed with you and your lawyer can let you know what important information you should ensure you relay.
You will need to discuss the history of your relationship with the children and if there are any issues of concern involving the other parent, you should know the relevant dates and have a good understanding about the issues that are of concern to you.
It is important you understand that at all times you may be assessed i.e. it is not just simply during your interview. How you interact with the children in the waiting room may end up being noted in a single expert’s report. For example, if you have not seen the children for a substantial time and when you see the children you do not given them a hug, this may be noted as an inability on your part to show affection to the children. If the children are reluctant to receive affection from you, this may be noted. Further, your interactions with the other parent may also be noted so you should ensure that you treat the other parent at all times with courtesy and respect.
If the other parent has some positive parenting skills, you should be prepared to acknowledge and admit this. The preparation of a report and your interview with a single expert is not an opportunity for you to make negative and derogatory remarks about the other parent. You should clearly and respectfully voice any concerns you may have. However, you want to show the single expert that you can work with the other parent to care for the children and that you will not alienate the children from a relationship with the other parent. The best way to do this is to answer questions honestly and remain focused on the children.
Once the report has been published, you will need to make an appointment with your lawyer so that you can discuss the contents of the report and any recommendations which may have been made in the report. The report will usually have short term and long term recommendations based on what the single expert considers to be in the children’s best interests. If you believe there are any errors in the report, then you should let your lawyer know so that they can write to the single expert and seek to have further clarification.
At all times, if you have any concerns, you need to communicate this with your lawyer so that the two of you can work as a team to try to ensure that ultimately, arrangements are put in place to reflect what is best for the children.
This article has been co-authored by Samantha Gomez and Jacqueline Brown at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Samantha has over 10 years’ experience in legal practice and is an experienced Perth lawyer in the areas of family law, Wills & estates and some minor criminal matters. Jacqui is a Perth lawyer and director, and has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in family law, mediation and estate planning. Jacqui is also a Nationally Accredited Mediator and a Notary Public.