GUIDE FOR PARENTS PREPARING FOR A FAMILY REPORT – WHAT TO EXPECT
What is a Family Report?
A Family Report is a document prepared by a Family Report Writer or Family Consultant (Family Consultant) that assists the Judge and the parties decide what arrangements are best for the children. Family Consultants are typically counsellors or therapists with experience dealing with children and the breakdown in Family Law matters.
When a Family Report is ordered by the Judge (whether it is with or without the consent of the parties) the Judge is able to set out in detail the particular issues that need to be covered by the Family Report. An example of this is where there is an older child and both parties are telling the Judge that the child wants to live with them, the Judge can order that the report consider the child’s views. In asking for the Family Report Writer to enquire about the child’s views, they will make it clear that the child does not have to express his or her views; the Family Report is not a means to interrogate a child.
What is the difference between a Family Report and a Section 11F Report?
A Section 11F Report is simply a Report made in accordance with Section 11F of the Family Law Act. It is a report that sets out briefly what the issues are in the matter.
Often these reports are very brief and are in the form of a memorandum rather than a lengthy report. Often Judges refer matters to have a Section 11F report when the matters that are required to be determined are not clear.
Who pays for the Family Report?
Family Reports are usually paid for by the parties to the proceedings equally but there are exceptions to this, for example when one party has no money and the other party has a much higher income or when the Court agrees to fund the cost of the Family Report.
Parties to proceedings should never assume that the Court will fund a Family Report. More often than not, the Court will expect parties to fund this Report simply because the Court does not have the money to pay for such Reports.
There are benefits of privately funding the costs of a Family Report and they are:
1. The parties are typically able to select the Family Consultant;
2. The Family Report is normally made available much quicker, i.e. there is a better chance of your matter progressing quicker.
Where do the Family Report Interviews occur?
Unless there is a very exceptional reason, the interviews for the Family Report occur at the offices or rooms of the Family Consultant.
Usually the Family Consultants Rooms are set up to cater for children’s needs, for example, they will have toys for the children to play with.
How Long Do the Family Report Interviews take?
Parties should set aside most of the day for Family Report Interviews.
After the Family Consultant is appointed he or she will send to you or your solicitor the details of the interview times. Usually the interviews are arranged so that the children are at the Family Consultants for the minimal amount of time as possible.
What does the Family Report Process Involve?
Each Family Consultant will conduct their interviews differently and a Family Consultant may undertake interviews for Family Reports differently for each matter. This needs to be kept in mind if you have had the opportunity to read, for example, a friend’s family report.
Basically the Family Consultant will want to speak to you, your children and your former spouse about yourselves, the children, what you want in relation to the children and why you want it.
If another person or other people are involved in the lives of the children, such as new partners, grandparents who actively are involved in the children’s lives etc., the Family Consultant may also want to speak with them. If your new partner has children that form part of your new household, the Family Consultant may also want to speak to them.
What should I do to Prepare for the Family Report Interviews?
As hard as it is, try and relax during the Family Report Interview. As much as you may feel that your life and your actions are under the spotlight, the role of the Family Consultant is to help the Court and you make decisions to get your family through this chapter of your life.
Before your Family Report Interview it is a brilliant idea to read through your Affidavit material and any other Affidavit material that has been filed in your proceedings. If there are any concerns about the Affidavit, take a note of them. You can take notes into the Family Report Interviews if it assists you to jog your memory however it is important that what you say in the interviews are your thoughts and your feelings. Remember that the ultimate reason you are having the Family Report Interviews is to make a decision about your children!
An important thing to have clear in your mind is:
1. What arrangements you want for your child or children; and
2. Why the arrangements you want are best for your child or children.
Remember that the focus on the Court is what is best for any child that they are asked to make a decision about – not only what suits you or the other party or what you believe you are entitled to.
Most parties in Family Law proceedings would have already spoken with a Family Lawyer or will have a Family Lawyer acting for them by the time they have to meet a Family Consultant. If you have not had legal advice about what a Judge needs to consider when working out what arrangements would be best for a child, you should speak to a Family Lawyer before meeting with a Family Consultant.
How can I prepare the children for the Family Report Interviews?
This is a hard point to answer because it is very difficult to discuss the Family Report process with your child or children without possibly coaching them.
Under no circumstances should you coach children before a Family Report Interview or at any stage in Family Report Interviews. Your child or children should be given an opportunity to express their own views if they want to do this.
If the Family Consultant considers that the children have been coached, whatever the children say (even if it is really what they feel) may be doubted by the Judge or contested by the other party to your proceedings.
There are brochures on the website of the Family Court of Australia that can be provided to your child or children which may answer any questions they have. Those brochures are titled “Why am I going to see a Family Consultant” and are:
· For 5 – 8 year olds click here
· For 9 – 12 year olds click here
There is also a video for children aged 5 – 8 years – click here
Sometimes, although not always, the Independent Children’s Lawyer (if one has been appointed in your matter) may want to speak with your child or children before the Family Report Interviews.
If you do have an Independent Children’s Lawyer appointed in your matter and your child or children are asking a lot of questions about the Family Report Interviews, you may ask the Independent Children’s Lawyer whether they would like to answer the questions.
If you are concerned about how to answer your children’s questions about the Family Report Interviews, speak to your Family Lawyer but no matter what happens do not, under any circumstances coach or denigrate the other party in your matter.
What I have a Domestic Violence Order against my former spouse/the other party?
The Family Consultant should be told about the existence of any Protection Order that is in place between parties so that this can be taken into account when the appointments for Family Reports are arranged and when they occur.
If you are concerned about coming face to face with the other party or are concerned about the other party having any face to face or other interaction with your child or children, you should get specific advice from a Family Lawyer about your concerns in this regard before the Family Report is scheduled and preferably before the Family Report is ordered.
What should I take to the Family Report Interviews?
If you would like to take notes with you to the Family Report Interview you can.
You need to understand that the Family Report Interviews are not private or confidential. Anything that is shown to the Family Consultant or discussed with the Family Consultant may end up in the Family Report and shown to the other party so, for example, if you take photographs to the Family Report Interviews you are likely going to have to show or provide a copy of those photos to the other party.
Considering the time that Family Report Interviews can take, it is a good idea to take drink and some snacks to the interviews, particularly for your child or children.
How should I dress for the Family Report Interview?
Every person has a different idea of what is considered “nice” or “decent” when it comes to clothing.
It is important to be comfortable and it is important for your child or children to be comfortable but, remember that you are meeting with a professional who is going to provide a report to the Court.
When clients ask me what to wear when they go to Court, I usually say to wear something similar to what they would wear if they were going to a church service or a nice restaurant for dinner.
Can I bring a friend with me?
The easy answer to this is “usually”. I suggest that you check with your Family Lawyer or the Family Report Writer.
If the friend that you want to bring is someone who often argues with or intimidates the other party, it may not be a good idea to bring them. On the other hand if you want someone to simply reassure you and provide some emotional support on the day, it would usually be fine for them to come along BUT it is very unlikely that they will be able to come into the interview with you.
Please keep in mind that parties sitting in the waiting room are often being observed either directly or incidentally, such as when the Family Consultant is bringing parties in or out of their interview room.
When will I receive the Family Report?
The Family Consultant usually tells you when they will have the Family Report issued. This can be anything from 7 days to 21 days.
If the Court pays for the Family Report to be prepared, the Family Consultant usually sends their completed Family Report to the Court. The Court will then release the report to each party via their Family Lawyers (if a Family Lawyer is involved). If you do not have a Family Lawyer, it is extremely important to make sure your contact details are kept up to date with the Court.
If the Family Report has been privately funded (i.e. the Court has not paid for it), usually, the Family Consultant releases the report directly to the parties Family Lawyer (if a Family Lawyer is engaged) or the parties directly (if no Family Lawyer is engaged).
As with all Family Law documents, when you receive the Family Report it is not something that should be shown around. It is confidential and penalties could apply to you if you publish any information from a Family Report (amongst other things). If you have any questions about the consequences of publishing information from your Family Law proceedings, speak to a Family Lawyer as the consequences are serious.
We hope that this article has provided some information to you about the Family Report process. Our office provides a free 45 minute initial consultation during which we are happy to provide general advice in relation to Family Law issues. If you would like to arrange one of our free 45 minute consultations with Natassja Hollows or Sally Southwood please telephone 07 5635 0180 or you can arrange an appointment online via https://www.stonegroup.com.au/family-lawyers-gold-coast/ .
Written by Sally Southwood – Senior Associate – Family Law Accredited Specialist