During family court proceedings, a Court dealing with parenting disputes and/or parenting arrangements can make an order for a Family Report to assist the Court. The Family Report is for the purpose of providing the Court with evidence and is one item that can be taken into account in the making of Family Court Orders.
What is a Family Report?
A Family Report is a document written by a family consultant appointed by the Court. It provides an independent assessment of the issues in the case and can help the judge hearing the case to make decisions about arrangements for the child/ren. It may also help the parties reach an agreement.
In preparing the report, the family consultant does the following:
- Considers the family’s circumstances;
- Explores issues relevant to the case;
- Recommends arrangements that will best meet the child/ren’s future care, welfare and developmental needs; and
- Regards the best interests of the child/ren are the main focus of the report.
The report must be formally released by the Court before parties can receive it. It cannot be shown to anyone other than the parties to the court case and their lawyers. 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.
It is an offence to publish or disseminate to the public, or a section of the public, any part of proceedings under the Act that identifies a party, a witness, or certain other persons.
If you have been told to obtain a Family Report for your family law matter, here are four important aspects:
2 Types of Family Reports
The Summary Report
A Court may order one or more parties to parenting proceedings to attend an appointment or a series of appointments with a family consultant and direct them to arrange for a child to attend such an appointment. After the appointment, the family consultant will make a report to the Court, which is presented in a shortened form and usually provide the Court a snap shot of the issues between the parties.
These reports (generally known as ‘S11F reports’) are used at interim hearings(unlike S 62G reports), which can form the basis of a final resolution of a parenting matter by consent where the parties agree to the recommendation of the report writer or the Court incorporates it in a Final Order.
The Specific Report
The Court may direct a family consultant to give the Court a report on such matters relevant to the proceedings as the Court thinks desirable. The court may adjourn the proceedings until the report is given. The Court may make orders as to the attendance of appointments by the parties and arranging for the child/ren to attend such appointments.
The family consultant must ascertain the views of the child/ren in relation to the matter and include them in the report unless it would be inappropriate to do so because of the child’s age or maturity or some other special circumstance. Any matter related to the care welfare and development of the child/ren may be included in the Family report.
Who Writes a Family Report?
A family consultant writes a Family Report. Family consultants are qualified social workers or psychologists, with skill and experience in working with children and families after separation and divorce. They are appointed by the Court or jointly by the parties to assist the Court to achieve the best outcomes for children. Family consultants are recognised as court experts in relation to children’s matters.
The family consultant will conduct a series of interviews in one day or over a few days. They will have individual interviews with the parties. They may also interview other significant people, such as adult siblings, step or half siblings, partners or grandparents.
The child/ren will be seen separately from any adults (except in special circumstances). The child/ren 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 (and other significant people) in separate observation sessions.
A Family Report is one source of evidence to the Court that can influence a family court Order. A Court is not bound by any recommendations made in the Family Report. If a Family Report is challenged, a family consultant can be cross-examined in Court. Cross-examination of a family consultant can be on content of the family report and assessment of family to determine relevance with other evidence before the Court.
What type of information does a family consultant need?
A family consultant may request the parents permission to contact teachers, doctors or other relevant professionals for more information about the child/ren. The Court may also direct that the family consultant have access to material which has 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;
- The child/ren’s relationships with significant people;
- The child/ren’s wishes and views; and
- Any risks to the child/ren.
Is my discussion with the family consultant confidential?
No. What is said to the family consultant is not confidential. All information gathered by the family consultant is admissible in court. The family consultant is required to include relevant information in the report, and may also be required to give evidence in court.
For more information regarding Family Reports
Please do not hesitate to contact our Client Engagement Team on (07) 3252 0011 to arrange an appointment with one of our experienced Family Lawyers.