A Guide to Expert Family Reports
What is an expert family report?
An expert family report is an independent assessment written by a Family Consultant. A Family Consultant will explore all relevant issues and conduct a thorough assessment of the family. Then, they will make recommendations as to arrangements that will best meet the interests of your child/ren. A family report is all about your child/ren and ensuring their interests are being looked after and championed. It is not uncommon for the recommendations to motivate parties to reach an agreement out of court, which saves a lot of time, money and stress. If your matter does progress to a final hearing, the family report will be admitted as evidence to aid the court in coming to a decision.
Who are the writers of the expert family report?
Family reports are written by Family Consultants who are qualified social workers or psychologists. The Family Consultants can be private independent practitioners jointly engaged by the parties or practitioners specifically appointed to the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Family Consultants possess specialised skills and experience in working with children and families in circumstances of separation and divorce. Family Consultants will provide recommendations that aim to achieve arrangements for the child/ren that will best meet their welfare, developmental and care needs.
Who pays for the family report?
A family report can be ordered by the court or privately commissioned if your legal representation thinks it necessary. If privately commissioned, the cost is shared equally between the two parties.
If ordered by the court, it may also be provided for by the court. In this case, there is no cost to either party, but it is crucial to remember that there is no guarantee that the court will fund the report. Therefore, you need to be prepared to fund the cost of the family report equally between yourself and the other party.
What is involved in the family report process?
In order to get a holistic idea about family circumstances, the Family Consultant will want to speak with you, your former spouse and your child/ren. They will ask you questions about yourself, your child/ren, what it is that you are wanting in relation to the child/ren and why you want these arrangements. Be honest and upfront in the interview. The Family Consultant is not there to judge you or put your life under a microscope but to help ascertain the best path forward for you and your child/ren. Nor is it intended to be an opportunity for you or the other party to drag the others name through the mud. Remember this process is all about the child/ren and the arrangements that will best serve their interests.
The child/ren are involved in the process so that their voices can be heard. Looking to the rights of the child, they have a right to stability, safety and a wholesome family life. Sometimes the rights of a child can be neglected by parents because of the stress and emotional upheaval brought on by a separation or divorce. So it is essential that children are given the opportunity to voice their opinions if they can do so.
Third parties may also be interviewed by the Family Consultant particularly if they are taking care of the child/ren or actively involved in their life. This can include grandparents, new partners, half or step siblings or adult siblings.
How long is the process?
You should allow up to a day for the interviews to take place. After a Family Consultant is appointed or chosen by the parties you may select a date and time that is suitable.
When will I receive the report?
You or your solicitor will receive a copy of the report prior to the final hearing. Depending on the content of the report you may decide to settle matters outside of court. If settled outside of court, remember that you or your solicitor must inform the court.
If I do not agree with the contents of the report, can I dispute it?
A family report is admitted as evidence so you may challenge the contents of the report at trial by calling the Family Consultant as an expert witness. You are required to provide 14 days written notice to the report writer. At trial, the Family Consultant can be cross-examined about the contents of the report and their assessment of the family.