Making new child-raising arrangements when a couple separates is often an issue most prone to result in conflict and acrimony. Emotions can be highest when dealing with the future of your children and so a family report is often used to help clarify and, ideally, solve areas of disagreement.
A family report is a written document prepared by a family consultant – usually a specially qualified social worker or psychologist – ahead of a family mediation or before family court proceedings on future arrangements regarding the children. In the court context, the report works as an independent assessment that can help a judge make a decision on where children should live and be raised. It can also help the separated couple come to an agreement through a dispute resolution method such as mediation, avoiding the need of going to court.
What issues are covered in a family report?
The focus of a family report is to find out what is in the best interests of the children. To determine the best interests for a child, the consultant must take into account each parent’s circumstances, the issues relevant to the individual case, and provide recommendations on arrangements that will best meet the child or children’s future care, welfare and developmental needs.
The family consultant will separately interview both parents in order to include each parent’s account of the history of the relationship, how relations are now between them, and the relationship of each parent with the child or children.
Where children are old enough to understand the process and express their views, the consultant will also ask them for their thoughts and feelings on each of their parents in a separate interview, including who they might want to live with and any other concerns they have. They will also likely observe each parent’s interaction with the child or children in a separate session, often through “play time” such as a conducting a board game between parent and child, drawing together etc.
The family consultant may also interview other people who are important in the children’s lives, such as adult siblings, step or half siblings, grandparents or other close relatives.
In conducting this process a family report writer will concentrate on where the parents’ and children’s accounts reveal exposure of the children to conflict and, in some situations, violence. An experienced consultant will have the experience and skills to assess a child’s account to determine whether their account is genuine, or whether one or both parents have tried to exert influence over what the child said.
How is a family report used?
Parents can organize a family report either privately through a social worker or psychologist, or request Orders from the Federal Circuit Court.
A family report is can often used to assist in negotations between the parents about resolving the matter on a final basis.
Where the family report is written by a family consultant appointed by the court, the judge is not bound by the content of the report but generally places considerable weight in its recommendations in forming a view as to how much time the child or children should spend with each parent. Again, the report can often be the basis for an agreement between the parents and avoid the need to go through court action.
Court-ordered family reports must be formally released by the court before either parent can receive it, and the report cannot be shown to anyone but the parties and their respective legal representatives. This includes people who may have been interviewed for the report but are not a party to the court matter.
If you disagree with the recommendations made in the family report, you need to call the family consultant as a witness for cross-examination of their findings. A family consultant needs at least 14 days notice in writing for this to occur.
How should you prepare for a family report?
If you’re about to be part of a family report process it is important to be prepared. While the interview process may only take an hour or two, the results of what you say and how you say it can have long-term impacts on your relationship with your children.
Speaking to a legal professional with experience and expertise this area is a wise idea at this time. They can help prepare you for what the family consultant is likely to ask, give you useful information on how the process works, and keep your expectations about the results of the process realistic.
You should be ready to provide a concise and comprehensive account of your relationship history and the circumstances leading to the separation. The consultant will also observe you interacting with your child or children as part of the report process and this can be vital in informing the recommendations made in the report. In short, it’s important to be aware that a family report will offer a snapshot of your parenting ability.
McNamara Law has widespread experience in family law matters, including the best way to prepare for a family report. We provide high-quality legal advice and prompt, expert and cost-effective solutions. Contact us on 13 58 28 to arrange a consultation today.