A Family Report is used to provide a court with an independent assessment of a family law dispute. It offers an independent, expert view of the issues surrounding the parental dispute, which assists the court in making a decision about the child’s best interests in resolving the matter. Here we’ll explain everything you need to know about Family Reports.
Why are family reports written?
Family Reports are written to assist parents in dispute about what is in their child’s best interests, or to assist the Court in determining what is in a child’s best interests if the matter is being litigated.
A family report writer’s job is to make observations and recommendations about the future care and living arrangements that are in the best interests of children in parenting disputes.
A family report writer can either be appointed by the Court or jointly elected by the parties in the parenting dispute.
Family Reports are often written in the hope of helping parties reach an agreement on their family law matter. By providing an independent assessment of the issues in the case, they can make unbiased judgements and help judges make decisions about child custody arrangements.
Who writes a family report?
A Family Report writer is often a Family Consultant who has been appointed by a court. However, they can also be jointly elected by both parties in instances where there is a parenting dispute.
A Family Report is prepared and written by either a psychologist or a social worker. These people have the relevant skills and experiences of working with children and families in order to achieve the best possible outcome for a child. As a result, Family Consultants are recognised as experts in children’s matters.
What happens before the family report is written?
After the Family Report writer has been appointed or elected, they will conduct a series of interviews and observation sessions. If your matter is in court, the Family Report writer will also read the affidavit and any other material you and your ex-partner have filed as part of the case.
Usually, each parent is interviewed individually and observed interacting with the child. Depending on the complexity of the case and the number of people involved, others may also be invited to be interviewed. This includes anyone who will be involved in looking after the child or may be living with the child, including grandparents or step-parents.
If appropriate, the child or children themselves may also be interviewed. However, this is age dependent and the child must consent to the interview. Where possible, children are supervised by qualified child care staff in a secure area.
The purpose of these interviews is for someone independent of the family to gather necessary information and make an informed decision about the best interests of the child. As a result, it’s likely that the interviewer will ask you about:
- Your background;
- Your involvement with the child before the separation;
- Whether your involvement with the child has changed following separation, to what extent, and why;
- The issues associated with your family law dispute;
- What you believe will be in the best interests of the child moving forward; and
- Whether you believe there are any risks to the child and/or your response to any allegations that the child is at risk.
It’s important to note that your interview with the Family Report writer is not confidential. Anything you say to them can be included within the final report if it’s deemed to be relevant material and has been used to form their judgement.
When will I receive the family report?
In order for you to see a court issued Family Report, it must first be formally released.
Private Family Reports usually take around 4-8 weeks to be released.
Once the report is released, it can only be viewed by you, your ex-partner and the respective lawyers. This means that it cannot be shown to anyone else, including any of the other people interviewed as part of the case unless the court gives permission for this.
If you publish the report or disseminate the information within it, then you’re committing an offence under the Family Law Act 1975.
What happens if I disagree with the family report?
With family law matters, tensions and emotions always run high. For this reason, it’s fairly common for one or both parties to disagree with the observations or recommendations of the Family Report.
In instances such as this, it’s important to understand that the Family Report itself is not legally binding, and a judge can deviate from its recommendations. The court views the Family Report as an opinion and it is at the discretion of the particular Judge to decide how much weight to attach to it.
If you dispute the findings of the report, and your case goes to Trial, you can ask for the report writer to be called as a witness in the trial. That way, they are open for cross-examination on their findings.
There are also a couple of avenues you can use to make an official complaint about your Family Report, depending on whether your case is in the Federal Circuit or Family Court of Australia
As a Family Report can be used by the court to make a decision on child custody matters, it’s important that you fully understand their significance and prepare for any interviews you’re asked to attend.