A family report is an important piece of evidence in a parenting dispute. It is a report prepared by an independent third party, usually an experienced social worker or psychologist, which examines the dynamics of a co-parenting relationship and makes recommendations that the report writer considers to be in the children’s best interests following the separation of their parents.
The court will generally order that a family report be prepared in every parenting matter that proceeds to trial, and usually before an interim hearing.
While the recommendations in a family report are not binding, the report is a persuasive piece of evidence before the court in a parenting dispute, so it is important to be prepared for the family report interview process. While you should discuss this process with your lawyer beforehand, some of the more important matters to be mindful of when attending your family report interview are set out below.
1. Dress yourself and your children appropriately and be on time for your interview.
As with any interview, being punctual creates a good first impression. It is not necessary to wear a suit, but smart casual attire should be worn.
Make sure you check with your lawyer beforehand as to where the family report interviews are taking place (usually at the report writer’s office) so you don’t get lost travelling to the venue and arrive well in time.
2. Bring activities and food for the children and don’t book anything else on the same day.
Family report interviews will last the whole day. Report writers generally meet with each parent separately in the morning, break for lunch, meet with each child in the afternoon (if they are old enough), and then separately observe each parent interact with the children together. If either of the parents are living with a new partner, the report writer may also require that the new partner attends the interviews. This schedule can be flexible depending upon the needs of the children (i.e. naps for toddlers).
So that you can interact with the children during observation sessions in the most natural and relaxed way, make sure to bring activities, books and toys that the children enjoy at home.
3. Think about what care arrangement you consider to be in the children’s best interests before your interview and how your proposed care arrangement can practically occur.
The family report writer will generally ask you what arrangement you consider to be in the children’s best interests and why, and how that arrangement can practically take place (i.e. given distances between households, employment of the parents such as shift work, etc). You may also be asked why you don’t agree to the arrangement your ex-partner is proposing.
The parenting orders you are seeking the court make, and the prospect of you being successful in your application for those orders, is something you should speak to your family lawyer about before your interview. While you won’t be asked by the report writer about the legal advice you have been given, it is important to be able to articulate the arrangements that you believe to be in the best interests of the children to the family report writer.
4. Be mindful about how you answer questions about your ex-partner and consider, before your interview, what are some of the positives of your ex-partner’s parenting and their relationship with the children.
While you need to be honest in your answers to the family report writer, it is not often that a parent reflects well when they spend their entire interview speaking negatively about the other parent. This can be perceived as an inability to promote the other parent’s relationship with the children, alienation of children, or could result in a concern that the parent is speaking about the other parent in that same derogatory way in front of the children. While you can, and should, express your concerns about the other parent to the report writer in a constructive way, try to also think about some positives in your ex-partner’s relationship with the children and their parenting style and how the children's relationship with the other parent can be positively maintained.
5. Have age-appropriate conversations with your children about the family report interview process beforehand and do not coach your children about what to say to the report writer.
Depending on the age of your children, the family report writer will interview them and it will be transparent if they have been told to say certain things. It can be detrimental to a parenting case if the court determines that children have been coached to say they want to live with a particular parent or where children wholeheartedly take on a parent’s views as if they are their own. As much as possible, children should not be aware that their parents are engaged in the litigation process.
In discussing the report writer process with children beforehand, they should be encouraged to be honest and open with the report writer about their feelings and it should be made clear to them that there will be no ramifications for them in being completely truthful to the report writer.
There are age appropriate videos on the Federal Circuit and Family Court website that can explain to children why they are participating in these interviews.
6. When answering any question, be honest and remember to always focus on your children.
Emotions often run high when speaking about poor dynamics in a previous relationship and future care arrangements for your children. When asked any question about your ex-partner or the children, it is a good idea to pause and think about a child-focused response.
Even if the family report writer does not make recommendations that you agree with, it is important to remember that a family report is one piece of evidence and the court is not bound to follow it. An experienced family lawyer can still challenge the recommendations in a family report and put to the court other persuasive evidence that supports care arrangements for children which are different to those proposed by the report writer.
If you require any assistance in your parenting matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of the members of our Family and Relationship Law team.
All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.