A family report is a written professional assessment of the family which aims to help the court in determining the arrangements for the children and former spouses. It must be court ordered and the family consultant who makes the report must be court appointed.
The report will include recommendations concerning the arrangements for the children following the best interests rule.
The parties and their lawyers will receive from the family consultant notices of appointments to which they must attend. The interviews may be done separately or in a group. Separate interviews may be arranged with the Family Consultant if one party is fearful for his and the children’s safety. Aside from the parents and children, significant people in family’s life may also be interviewed like the grandparents, teacher and family doctor.
Everything that is said during the interviews is admissible in court. Hence, nothing is confidential. The court may specify the issue which it would like the Family Consultant to tackle such as the issues in dispute, parenting arrangements, financial and parenting capacities of either parent and the wishes of the children.
On the other hand, the report is confidential and will only be released by court order. It is purely for the consumption of the parties, their lawyers and the court. The children must not be allowed to read the report.
The parties may settle on the basis of the report. They must duly inform the court of any settlement reached. However, if a party disputes the recommendations in the report the proper venue to do so is during the hearing through cross-examination. The party contesting the report must inform the Family Consultant at least 14 days before the hearing of the intention to cross-examine.
A party who has a complaint against the family consultant should notify in writing the Dispute Resolution Coordinator at the court. Complaints against reports done by family consultants not appointed by the court will not be entertained. The recourse of the party, in this case, is to inform the appropriate professional body.
The court will consider the financial circumstances in ordering the payments for the making of the report. So it may happen that a party need not pay for the report unlike an expert report which must always be paid by the party. An expert report is one that is beyond the expertise of a family consultant like the preparation of a medical or psychiatric report.
It must be remembered that the court is not bound by the findings in the report. It will still decide on the merits of the entire case.
It’s not called legal drama without reason. Courtrooms often bear witness to a variety of extremely difficult and emotional moments. In family court proceedings, these emotional outbursts are almost a certainty. It’s never easy for a parent to hear false, hurtful, or even scandalous information about his or her parenting style. Additionally, it can be hard hearing all matters of personal information, aired in a public forum.
As a combination of two, topped off with recommendations about your child’s future, a family report can be particularly difficult to deal with. As it’s the basis of the typical family settlement, it’s vital that the report submitted to the court contains only factual and substantiated information.
A lawyer facing a falsified, or mistaken, family report can respond in a variety of ways. As it’s so key to how family law cases operate, the Family Court of Australia has elaborated on the role of Family Reports in court on numerous occasions. The most important of these decisions arose from 1979’s Hall and Hall FLC 90-713. While it’s important to read the court’s decision in its entirety, its key points were as follows:
While the recommendations in a family report may be well-supported, the presiding judge is under no obligation to accept them. So, even if the information presented is false, clients can sometimes rely on the judge’s intuition to set things right.
While they are experts on family relations, report writers are not privy to all the nuances involved in a case. With that in mind, judges must evaluate the report writer’s recommendations after considering all available evidence.
In certain circumstances, a lawyer would be remiss if they chose not to question the writer of the family report. As they are expert witnesses, and nothing more, report writers possess no special privileges regarding cross-examination.
To answer any specific questions regarding family reports, reach out to a qualified lawyer.