Are you going through the process of having a Family Report prepared? We understand this can be very stressful. Our experienced team of family lawyers at Forge Legal can answer any questions you may have and guide you through the process, each step of the way, to ensure you are properly prepared and best present yourself during interviews.
What is a Family Report?
When parents involved in parenting cases in the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia are unable to reach agreement about arrangements for their children, the Court may order a report be prepared by a family consultant.
If an Independent Children’s Lawyer has been appointed in your case, the Independent Children’s Lawyer will coordinate the family report process.
The family consultant will conduct interviews with each parent, the children and other significant people such as siblings, partners or grandparents. The family consultant then prepares a written document setting out an independent assessment of any relevant issues, consider the children’s future care, welfare and developmental needs and provide recommendations as to what is in the best interests of the children. This is known as a Family Report.
A Family Report may also make recommendations for other expert reports to be obtained such as a psychiatric assessment report, or suggest the parents participate in some form of counselling or parenting program.
A Family Report is one of the forms of evidence that a Judge takes into account when making a decision about parenting arrangements. Whilst a Judge is not required to follow the recommendations in the Family Report, the report is often given considerable weight as it provides as assessment from an expert who is independent of both parents.
If you do not agree with the Family Report, the Family Report Writer may be challenged in cross examination about the recommendations in the report, particularly if the Court makes findings that are contrary to the facts they have relied upon in forming their opinion. A Family Report Writer may then change their views and make alternate recommendations under cross examination.
Our team at Forge Legal have successfully challenged many Family Report Writers under cross examination, with the report writer altering their opinion and recommendations referred to in the Family Report, in favour of our clients.
The Family Report cannot be shown to any person other than the parties to the case and their lawyers without the Court giving permission. It is an offence under the Family Law Act 1975 to do so.
What is a Family Consultant?
A Family Consultant is a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker who has experience with working with children and families. Family Consultants work as advisors to the Court who provide independent guidance to Judges to assist in reaching the best possible outcomes for children.
What is a Family Report Writer?
A Family Consultant who has prepared a Family Report is known as a Family Report Writer.
How much does a Family Report Cost?
If neither party has the money to pay for a Family Report and the Court orders the report, the costs are funded by the Court and there is no cost to the parties. However, if the parties have agreed to arrange a family report privately you may be asked to pay half of the costs, unless the other party is prepared to pay the costs in full. The costs of a Family Report arranged privately will vary, usually anywhere between around $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the report writer engaged.
Family Report Interviews
Once a Family Report has been ordered, the Family Consultant will arrange for the parents, the children and any other significant persons to attend specific appointments i.e. family report interviews.
You will be advised of the appointment times and location for the interviews. It is critical that you attend the interviews as scheduled by the report writer. Interview appointments can usually only be changed in exceptional circumstances. If you fail to attend the appointment, the Family Report may not be able to be completed, or it may result in delays or additional costs being incurred which you may be ordered to pay. Family report Writers are obliged to advise the Court if you fail to attend appointments scheduled for family report interviews.
The Family Report Writer will have individual interviews with each of the parents and the children, as well as other significant persons involved in the children’s lives such as partners, siblings or grandparents.
You should think of the interviews like an observation session being conducted by the Family Report Writer. They will observe you interact with the children and with the other party, or any other significant persons being interviewed.
Your children will be interviewed separately from any adults unless there are special circumstances preventing the children from being interviewed by themselves, but this rarely occurs. In addition to the children having individual appointments, you may have a joint session with the children so the report writer can observe your interaction with the children and their behaviour towards you.
The purpose of your children having individual appointments is so that they are given an opportunity to speak freely to express their wishes without having the pressure of either parent being present, although they will not be forced to express any views if they do not wish to.
During interviews, your children may be able to be supervised by qualified staff in a secure and neutral environment away from any potential adult conflict, but you will need to check with the Family Report Writer beforehand as to the services they are able to provide. You may need to bring someone who can look after the children whilst you are being interviewed.
How long does a Family Report take?
It can take anywhere up to two months for appointments to be scheduled for family report interviews once a Family Report has been ordered by the Court. Interviews are usually scheduled much quicker for Family Reports where report writers have been engaged and are funded privately by the parties.
Family report interviews will usually take a full day. In some cases, additional appointments may be scheduled for another day if the matter is complex and the Family Report Writer requires more time for interviews.
Once all of the interviews have been conducted, it can often take up to six weeks before the Family Report is issued by the report writer.
What questions are asked in a Family Report Interview?
If an Independent Children’s Lawyer has not been appointed in your case, you will need to provide the Family Report Writer with copies of the court documents that have been filed in the proceedings, such as the initiating application and/or response and any affidavits.
The Family Report Writer may request permission to contact third parties such as teachers, doctors or other professionals who are independent and may be able to provide additional information about the children. The Family Report Writer may also ask to inspect any documents that have been produced under subpoena before preparing their report.
The questions usually asked by the Family Report Writer relates to obtaining information about:
- any facts or issues that are disputed between the parents
- the arrangements that have previously been in place and are currently in place regarding the care of the children
- the parenting arrangements proposed by each of the parents moving forward
- any views or wishes expressed by the children and the reasons behind their wishes
- the relationship between the children and each of the parents, as well other significant people such as siblings, grandparents and partners
- the children’s individual needs
- the capacity for each parent to appropriately care for the children and provide for their welfare and developmental needs
- any risk of harm posed to the children
- the relationship between the parents and ability to co-parent
- the capacity of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent
How to prepare for a Family Report Interview?
Here are some tips on how to prepare for family report interviews:
- Read the court documents being provided to the Family Report Writer beforehand so you are familiar with the case and the issues in dispute. Think in advance so you are clear about the issues you wish to raise. Consider how you may address any concerns raised by the other parent.
- Consider what is in the children’s best interests. Think about what is best for the children and why. Ask yourself how the orders sought by you will achieve the best outcome for the children.
- Always remain focused on the children. If there are issues you are raising about the other parent, ensure you are able to explain how these issues are relevant and their impact on the children, as opposed to just being negative or critical of the other parent. Making degrading remarks does not assist in showing you have the capacity to facilitate a meaningful relationship between the children and the other parent, or the ability to co-parent.
- Do not try to ‘coach’ the children. Provide a general overview to the children about the Family Report process in age appropriate terms. Don’t put too much emphasis on the interview process that would create anxiety for the children. Don’t try to influence or pressure the children or tell the children what to say. Encourage the children to be honest and speak openly and freely with the Family Report Writer. Family consultants are experienced in recognising the signs and behaviours presented by children when a parent has tried to influence or pressure them about what to say.
- Behave appropriately, present yourself well and be honest. Make sure you dress well and are on time so you start with a good first impression. Be respectful, courteous and co-operative both to the Family Report Writer and all other people involved in the interview process including your ex-partner. Be mindful of how you speak to your ex-partner. The Family Report Writer will be watching and observing your behaviour, actions and interaction with other persons who are involved in the interview process, not just listening to what you have to say during your interview.
- Be prepared for the children’s needs. Bring food, drinks, toys and activities to keep the children entertained for the day. Check with the Family Report Writer whether you need to bring someone to look after the children whilst the parents are being interviewed.
- Safety concerns. If you have concerns for your safety or the children’s safety, tell the report writer beforehand so that steps can be taken to ensure the safety of everyone throughout the interview process.
If you have any questions about the Family Report process or your parenting order, please contact our friendly and understanding team of experienced lawyers at Forge Legal for legal advice.