Family Reports in Family Law Cases

by Matthew Elvin

If you and the other parent of your child/ren have been unable to work out suitable parenting arrangements for your children, then Court is probably the next step. At the first Court hearing in parenting cases, the Court will often order that the parents and the children attend an appointment with a Family Consultant. A Family Consultant is a psychologist or social worker who is a family specialist that helps the Court and the parties by providing an independent expert opinion. The Court takes the views of the Family Consultant seriously, and their views will be influential in determining the outcome of the case.

distraught kidThe Family Consultant will usually meet with each of the parents and the children separately and then prepare a written Report or Assessment. Typically, the Report will comprise of many pages of the Family Consultant’s observations and opinions. It will usually conclude with a series of recommendations regarding the terms of interim or final parenting orders (in general terms only).

One of the most unique, and powerful, aspects of the Family Report/Assessment is that it will usually include the Consultant’s impression of the children’s views and wishes. This is unique, because the children’s views and wishes are not usually considered otherwise (with the exception of where an Independent Children’s Lawyer is appointed). That is, parents’ views on what they think the children want is usually not considered, and the children themselves (while under 18) do not ‘give evidence’ as witnesses in family law cases (i.e. the children do not go into the witness stand and answer questions). Therefore, with a few exceptions, the Family Report/Assessment is one of the only ways that the children’s views are considered.

Regarding costs, in our experience it is more common for the Court to order that the Report/Assessment be prepared by a court-affiliated Family Consultant at no cost to the parents, but it is also reasonably common for the Court to order that parents pay some or all of the cost.

Finally, a Family Consultant’s Report/Assessment may not always be the most appropriate avenue. For instance, in cases where there are serious concerns for a child’s safety or mental health, the Court may prefer to appoint an expert psychologist or psychiatrist to examine the child and present a report to the Court rather than a Family Consultant’s report/assessment. This is often based on the recommendation of an independent children’s lawyer.

If you have a question about parenting or children’s issues, do not hesitate to contact TBA Law for confidential advice.

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