Family Reports in Parenting Cases
In family law parenting matters, a child’s best interests are the primary focus. Family reports provide the court with an insight into the views, relationships and family attachments of the children involved in the dispute.
The family report is written by a family consultant, who will be either a psychologist or a qualified social worker. Family consultants are recognised as expert witnesses for children’s matters, and are appointed because they have experience working with children and families. A family report writer can rely on information from a variety of sources such as interviews with the parties, affidavits and other reports filed in the case.
All parties involved in the case are interviewed along with other people who have strong connections to the child such as, grandparents or step-siblings if the family consultant believes it is necessary.
The child, who is the central focus of the matter, is interviewed separately from the adults. This allows the family consultant to gauge the child’s views without the parents influence and bias. It is also common for the family consultant to schedule separate sessions to observe interactions between the child and their parents, or other significant people.
Interviews are usually conducted at the family consultant’s premises but it is not unheard of for the family consultant to interview the parties and the children in their homes.
Generally the family consultant will gather information about :
- The views and wishes of the child;
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent and other significant adults;
- How the child is likely to be affected by a change in circumstances;
- Whether it is practical for the child to spend time with either parent (for example if the child 6 months old and is reliant on the mother for nourishment);
- Any risks to the child (for example, family/ domestic violence or abuse);
- The parents attitude towards the child and their responsibilities as parents;
- The parent’s capacity to provide for the child’s intellectual and emotional needs and
- The willingness and ability of each parent to put aside their conflict and to facilitate a continuing relationship between the other party and the child.
Family consultants are at liberty to include any other matters they deem relevant to the child’s care, welfare or development for example an overall history of the family, the personal histories of the parties and other significant people.
Family reports more than often end with the consultant’s recommendations about how parenting time and parental responsibility should be allocated between the parties. The recommendations will reflect what the family consultant believes is in the child’s best interests, in particular their care, welfare and development needs.
The family report is informative and provides evidence that is heavily relied upon by the court when it is forming its opinion of what is in the best interest of the child. The court also recognises that family reports have their limitations. Family consultants cannot and do not have access to all the available evidence. It therefore follows that their recommendations are limited to the acts or assumptions they made during their meetings and interviews of the parents, children and significant others. Ultimately, the court and the presiding judge will take into careful consideration all the evidence (amongst it the family consultant’s recommendations) before it decides what is best for the child.