When disputes in a family law proceeding involve children, the court may depend upon the assistance of a professional who prepares a family assessment report
A family report is an independent assessment of the issues involving children related to a Family Court case compiled and written by a family consultant appointed by the court or a private professional engaged by one or both of the parties. A Family Report is ordered by the Court and may be admitted as evidence. The purpose of the Family Report is to assess the issues of the case in order to assist the judge in making decisions regarding the arrangements for the children. It could also help the parties arrive at an amicable agreement.
A Family report may include recommendations about parental roles and responsibilities; children’s time and communication with parents, family members and other significant people in their lives; safety issues; and support services needed by the children and adults.
A Family Consultant is a qualified social worker or psychologist skilled and experienced in working with children and families. Family Consultants are accepted as court experts in children’s matters. If the Family Consultant is Court appointed, the parties will not have to pay for the cost. In the event that the parties agree to a private professional, the parties will have to shoulder the expense.
Usually, the Family Consultant will collect information regarding issues in dispute, past and present parenting arrangements, parenting capacities, wishes and views, and any risks to the children. This information will be gathered from parents, adult siblings, step or half siblings, partners or grandparents. Permission may also be sought by the Family Consultant to interview teachers, doctors or other relevant professionals for more information about the children. The Court may also give access to subpoenaed material to the Family Consultant.
You or your lawyer will receive a letter or phone call from the Court notifying you of the interview schedules and their location. The interviews may be conducted in the Child Dispute Services Section of the Court or at other sites.
All the information that the Family Consultant collected can be admitted in court. The Family Consultant is required to include relevant information in the report and may even be required to give evidence in court. The court can also access any information collected by the Family Consultant, even if it is excluded in the final family report.
A copy of the family report will be given to you or your lawyer prior to the hearing. A copy will also be given to the Court, the independent children’s lawyer and the person you are in dispute with or their lawyer.