If a parenting application has been made in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and parties are not able to agree to suitable care arrangements for the children or to determine a specific issue such as a choice of school for a child, the Court may order that a Family Report is prepared for the matter.
A Family Report provides information to the Court about the children, parents and family dynamic to help the Judge determine what is in the child’s best interests. After an order for a Family Report is made, each party or any significant person in the children’s lives along with the children will meet with a Family Consultant (a qualified social worker or psychologist with skill and experience in working with families and children). Depending on the age, maturity and willingness of the child, they may also be interviewed by the Family Consultant to ascertain their view about the issue in dispute. After interviews are completed, the Family Consultant will prepare the Family Report with a focus on the child’s best interests which may outline:
• The child’s wishes and views;
• The history and nature of the child’s relationship with each party;
• The practical difficulty of the child spending time with each party;
• The issues in dispute between the parties; and
• Any risks or safety concerns, such as the prevalence of family violence or abuse.
The Family Consultant will likely assess the parenting capacity of each party in terms of their attitude towards parental responsibilities, capacity to provide for the child and their willingness to facilitate a relationship with the other party. The Family Report will make recommendations in relation to:
• The children’s living arrangements, including with whom the child should live and the amount of spend time and communication they should have with the non-primary care parent;
• Parental responsibility and decision making; and
• Specific issues including choice of schools, medical treatment, relocation and overseas travel.
The Family Report is an important piece of evidence that the Court will take into account when making its decision about the issue in dispute, but it is not determinative, and the Court is not required to follow any recommendations made. In most cases the judicial officer is inclined to place significant weight on the Family Report as the evidence is viewed as objective and it is provided by a Court-appointed expert.
If a party disagrees with the recommendations in a Family Report during the final hearing of a matter, they are able to cross-examine the Family Consultant. As at any stage of family law proceedings, legal advice should be obtained to determine the best pathway forward. Should you require any assistance in discussing preparation for a Family Report interview or analysing any recommendations made, you should contact a member of the Vic Rajah Family Lawyers team on (03) 9781 4222.