If you have a parenting case in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Court), there may be an order made for a report to assist the parties and the Court in determining what is in a child/ren’s best interests.
The Court can order either on its own or by consent with the parties, a Child Impact Report or a Family Report. Each may be a useful tool in obtaining insight into the views of the children and their needs and can provide guidance to parties and the Court about what orders may be appropriate in ensuring that the paramount consideration of the children’s best interests is met. Both types of report are done by either a Court Child Expert or a Family Consultant.
Orders for either a Child Impact Report or Family Report are made by a Judge, Senior Judicial Registrar or Judicial Registrar in the early stages of Court proceedings.
The purpose of a Child Impact Report (which used to be called a Section 11F Report) is to provide a snapshot to the Court regarding any risks to the children, the children’s views (where appropriate – depending on the age and maturity of the child), their experiences and needs. It allows both the Court and the parents to consider what is in the best interests of the children when considering future interim (short term) parenting arrangements. The Child Impact Report may also assist in narrowing the issues in dispute between the parties or may potentially resolve the matter overall.
A Family Report is a more in-depth report designed to assist the parties in the determination of the final parenting arrangements or in more complex parenting arrangements. The Order for a Family Report can set out in detail the particular issues that need to be covered in the Family Report.
Both a Court Child Expert or Family Consultant are usually a qualified psychologist or social worker specialising in child and family issues after separation.
A Court Child Expert is employed by the Court and the cost of a Child Impact Report or Family Report is met by the Court with no cost to either parent.
A Family Consultant is a private practitioner appointed by the Court to prepare a report. The costs of the report are usually shared between the parties but there are some exceptions – for example when one party has a much higher income.
The costs of a private Child Impact Report can be up to $4,000.00 (inc GST) and the costs of a private Family Report can be up to $9,000.00 (inc GST). Private Family Consultants are generally chosen by the parties because they are quicker and there is no guarantee that the Court will fund a Child Impact Report or Family Report.
Colloquially speaking, the Court Child Expert and Family Consultant are called “Family Report Writers”.
Each Family Report Writer conduct their interviews differently but generally the process is similar.
Assessments are usually conducted in two stages:
1. Parent Meeting
Firstly, the Family Report Writer will meet with each parent separately. Each parent will be asked questions with respect to:
(a) The children, including the relationship of the children with each parent;
(b) Identifying any risk issues which may impact the children including family violence;
(c) Parenting arrangements after separation including living and care arrangements, schedules and time with each parent; and
(d) Any other matters the Court Child Expert considers relevant.
2. Child Meeting
Sometimes on the same day or separate day, the Family Report Writer will meet with the children. If there is more than one child, the Family Report Writer may meet with them together or separately and may also wish to observe the children with each parent.
However, parents are not able to be present while the children are being interviewed.
The children will be provided an opportunity to express their feelings and experiences but do not have to share information if they do not wish to do so. The Family Report Writer may ask your child questions with respect to:
(a) Their relationship with each parent;
(b) Their experiences living with each parent, including any incidents that may be of concern; and
(c) Feelings and emotions in relation to their parents’ separation.
Prior to the meeting, you can explain to your child that they are going to meet with someone who is going to talk to them about their feelings and experiences. You must not coach your child or tell them what to say.
It is important to be aware that any information provided to the Family Report Writer is admissible in Court and can become evidence in your case. Nothing you or your child say to Family Report Writer is confidential from the Court.
The Family Report Writer will then complete the report and if it is a Court Child Expert, they will directly submit the report to the presiding judicial offer who will then make an order to formally release the report to the parties. Your lawyer (or you) will receive the report when it is released. A private report will be released to the parties directly and usually the person who started the court proceedings (called the Applicant) will organise for the report to be on Affidavit so it can be before the Court.
It is important to note that you are not able to share the report (or its contents) with other people. Documents in family law proceedings are afforded confidentiality from the public and is an offence to share such documents with other people without a Court Order or consent of all parties.
Once the report is released or on Affidavit, it is part of the formal evidence in your case. Generally, it will outline the issues in dispute between the parties, areas where the parties are in agreement and a recommendation going forward including with respect to care and living arrangements for the children and any interventions required, for example, counselling for the children.
The report is only one piece of evidence the Court will consider when making a decision. The Court is not bound by the opinion or recommendations provided by the Court Child Expert or Family Consultant and will consider all other evidence in the proceedings.
If you are involved in parenting proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact our Family & Relationship Law team at Coulter Legal so that we can provide you with advice about how to prepare for the report process tailored to your individual circumstances.
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