24 June 2021, By Niki Schomberg of Hartley Family Law
If you and your ex-partner cannot agree upon care arrangements for your children, the court may order that you obtain a family report.
A family report is generally prepared by a social worker or psychologist. It provides an independent assessment of the dynamics of a family and the issues in dispute in a matter.
Family report interviews generally take place over the course of a day. The day is usually split up into different sessions where the report writer will:
- interview each parent separately and other significant persons (such as new partners);
- interview the children by themselves where they are old enough; and
- observe each parent separately interacting with the children.
After the interviews, the report writer will prepare and release a report which sets out the issues relevant to the case (for instance, substance abuse, high levels of conflict between parents, parenting capacity, etc) and then make recommendations about arrangements in the best interests of the children.
While the recommendations in a family report are not binding, the opinion of the report writer is generally given significant weight by the family law courts. While not impossible, it can often be difficult to challenge a family report where unwelcome recommendations have been made.
It is therefore extremely important to be well prepared for family report interviews. Some things to think about before attending interviews are:
- Have age-appropriate conversations with your children about the family report process beforehand and do not coach children about what to say to the report writer during interviews.
Report writers are cognisant of how much adult conflict children have been subjected to by their parents and how exposed they have been to court proceedings.
I have seen a family report where the report writer has been highly critical of a parent when their child said during interviews ‘mummy told me I had to say I don’t want to live with daddy.’ Comments like that made by a child during interviews can be disastrous to a parenting case.
- Dress the children, and yourself, appropriately and be on time to the interviews.
I recall a report where the report writer commented on how lovely my client had dressed the parties’ daughter in a pink tutu. Report writers do take note of things like this.
- Bring a packed lunch and activities for your children.
The report interviews will generally take place over a whole day. To ensure your children are not upset due to hunger or boredom, be prepared by bringing a packed lunch, snacks and activities to keep them entertained.
During observation sessions the report writer will watch you interact with your children so engaging in activities can assist in making these sessions feel more authentic for the children.
- Think about some positive things you can say about your ex-partner’s parenting.
While it may feel like you need to tell the report writer about every concern you have about your ex-partner and their parenting capability, it can sometimes reflect poorly on a parent where they cannot identify any positives in the other’s parenting. This can lead to a perception they are unable to facilitate the other parent having a relationship with the children.
If you need any assistance preparing for family report interviews or addressing unwelcome recommendations in a family report, please do not hesitate to contact Niki Schomberg or any of our experienced family lawyers.