What is a family report?
When you are separating from your partner, and if you have children together, you may hear about something called a family report. In this article we share with you what a family report is, as well as when it is required and how the process works.
A family report is a document written by a family consultant. They meet in person with all parties involved, parents and children, and sometimes other carers to ask questions about the children and their everyday lives. These family consultants are independent and are qualified to give their recommendations because they are either a psychologist or a social worker and have a great deal of experience with families going through separation.
A family report is written to help parties come to an agreement about what kind of parenting arrangements may be in the best interests of the children. The Court can also order parents to get a family report to help the Court come to an interim or final decision about care arrangements.
Who is involved in a family report?
In most cases it would just be the report writer (family consultant), the parents or primary carers, and the children of the separating couple. However, children are really only interviewed if they are old enough and if it is appropriate based on the particular child’s circumstances.
The family consultant writing the report will interview the participants, and then observe the child/ren with the parents, and other people who are significantly involved in caring for the children such as grandparents, aunties, uncles and/or close family friends. Generally, they would only be included in the report if they are someone the children will be spending a considerable amount of time with and on a frequent basis.
When is a family report required?
In some instances, both parents agree to seek a family report following their separation. This is often very helpful and can assist parents to reach an agreement as to care arrangements for their child/ren, without having to litigate.
If the separating parents want different outcomes, and court proceedings are initiated, the Judge will most likely require a family report, to provide expert recommendations regarding what is in the child/ren’s best interests. This is because the Judge will want an independent qualified person to give recommendations about what should happen regarding the children’s care arrangements. The Judge can then take those recommendations into consideration when determining what arrangements may be in the child’s best interests. The Judge can either order a Family Report on their own volition, or a party can ask the Judge to make the order for a family report.
What is in a family report?
The report is a detailed and lengthy document. In the report the family consultant details the history of the parenting matter and the parents’’ competing proposals. It will include any issues that have arisen, for example, safety issues, allegations of risk of harm, as well as what care arrangements may be in the child’s best interests, which can include with whom the child should reside.
To complete the report, the family consultant will arrange an agreed date where everyone attends an interview with the report writer. This will involve the mother, father and any important people in the child or children’s life such as grandparents.
Usually, all participants will attend on the same day, but sometimes that is not possible, and so the interviews may be spread out over a few days. If there is a legitimate reason parents cannot see or be around each other on the day, the writer will make sure they come in at times where they will not have to bump into each other.
Generally though, the family consultant will want to observe the way parents interact with each other on the changeover. For example, the mother and child might have just finished their interviewing session together, they will then come out, or the father might come into the room, and the mother will hand over the child to the father. The report writer observes this and will write down their observations of the interaction between the two parents. This is important where there are allegations, for example, that the parents’ relationship is hostile and they are unable to coparent.
The family consultant will also conduct observation sessions between the child/ren and each of the relevant adults. This is needed for the family consultant to form a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of the child’s care relationships.
Sometimes parents may have a joint interview, but that is not always the case as it is very dependent on the approach of the individual report writer. Some will seek to interview parents together to see if they can get some common ground between them. Others prefer to interview separately. If there is a domestic violence order, a combined interview will not be possible.
How to be prepared for your family report
The family consultant will ask you or your lawyer for your history. This will include an overview of what is going on regarding the separation and what the issues are. If Court proceedings have been commenced, the family consultant will request copies of the parents’ court material, and copies of any subpoenaed material.
Both parties can either agree to provide one letter to the family consultant, explaining what the matter is about. However, if an agreement cannot be reached on what has happened in the relationship, then you can each send the report writer your own overview. You and your lawyer will want to make sure the other side is copied into any communications so all can see what you have shared with the report writer.
Bring lunch, snacks and toys for your children because it can be a long day. It is important to keep this in mind, along with your appearance, because the report writer will make a note of all observations. It is important to present well as, if you appear disorganized or dishevelled, this will be noted in the report. In the days leading up to the interview, we also recommend that you re-read all material submitted so you are familiar with the content, have an understanding of the proposals you have made and so that what you say during the interview is congruent with what you have submitted.
The day can be long and potentially stressful for some, so being prepared will help.
Children’s involvement in family reports
It is important to not talk to your children about the report interview. If you have care of your children in the lead up to the interview, unless they are asking you about it, be very careful about what you say to them. This is because sometimes parents can get a little swept up in the emotion of the process and either intentionally or unintentionally coach their children into giving a particular response to the report writer. A family consultant will normally be able to pick up on when a child has been coached to give certain responses.
What the report writer needs to do is see whether or not the children have their own views about what is happening and what they want. The child is not obligated, and they cannot be forced to give their view, but the report writer will give the child/ren the opportunity to express their thoughts if age-appropriate.
When separating with children and coming to a resolution requires a family report to be completed, it is always a good idea to try to do this privately and agree on the terms together. If this is not possible the Court will most likely order you to get a Family Report, to assist the Court in coming to a decision about your matter.
Family reports can be of great assistance in resolving parenting disputes, and our team of family lawyers can help assist you through the family report process.
Family reports can be of great assistance in resolving parenting disputes, and our team of family lawyers can help assist you through the family report process. If you found this article interesting, leave a comment or share it with your team, colleagues and clients.
Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by clicking here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.