Often in a parenting matter before the Federal Circuit Court or Family Court, the Court will make an Order (either at the request of one party, by consent with all parties, or by their own accord) for the preparation of a family report.
A family report is a lengthy report prepared by a family consultant (a qualified psychologist, social worker or counsellor) which will provide recommendations to the Court as to what Final Orders should be made for the children.
The report process usually involves interviews between the consultant and all parties (each party individually) and the children (in the absence of the parties). It will also involve observations between the children and the parties.
In preparing for the interviews and report the consultant will read all Court documents filed by all parties in the proceedings, all Subpoena material before the Court, all Court Orders made in the matter and any previous reports made in the matter.
Generally the Court will interview each party and the each child subject to the proceedings (unless the children are too young to participate meaningfully in the interview process). The consultant will also generally interview any other adult who lives in the home with each party and possibly, anyone who has a significant role in the children’s lives. This could include partners and grandparents for example.
The consultant will also sometimes speak to the independent children’s lawyer, the children’s school or day-care and any counsellor or psychologist involved with the children or parties.
The Family Law Act states that the Court can direct the family consultant to consider anything the Court considers relevant or desirable. The Family Law Act also requires the family consultant to ascertain the views of the child, unless due to the child’s age, maturity or some other circumstance that is not appropriate or possible.
The Court will usually make a detailed Order for a family report, setting out the specific factors it requires the family consultant to consider. These can be general, varied and broad or they can be narrow, limited and specific. Sometimes, if these are more narrow and specific (for instance specifically in relation to what time the children spend with the parent they don’t live with) the Court will Order a Limited Issues Report as compared to a full Family Report.
Common things the Court will ask the family consultant to consider are:
– The factors in s.60CC & s.65DAA of the Family Law Act 1975;
– The parents interactions (and other significant adults)
– The children’s developmental and emotional state;
– The relationship of the children to the parents (and other significant persons) and the wishes of the children;
– The proposed and actual home environments (including any risk to the children in each home and posed by each party);
– The proposals of each party as to the children’s future.
The report will include summaries of the consultant’s interviews with each party and the children and summaries of the observations between the children and parties. It will also include a summary and assessment of the evidence before the Court (such as Court documents and Subpoena materials) and an assessment as to any risk posed to the children.
However, just like kids sometimes do when reading books, lawyers will often skip to the end and read the last bit first. This is because this part (often titled “recommendations”) is usually the most helpful and interesting part. This section will usually set out what long-term arrangements the consultant proposes for the children (including how long-term decisions for the children should be made, who they should live, what time they should have with the other party/parties, and what, if any, restraints or other Orders should be made to ensure the children’s safety).
It’s simple, obtain legal advice from a family lawyer! Each parenting matter is different, with different facts and issues, and what is important and relevant for one family report, might not be in another.
If you have been ordered to attend a family report interview it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible, so you are as prepared as possible for the interview.
If you would like to make an appointment to speak to our Family Law Associate, Emily Ostler, you can either call our offices on 02 4050 0330 or book online.