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Child Custody – Family Reports

A family report provides information about you, your children and your family to help identify what arrangements are in your children’s best interests.

A family report may include observations/recommendations to the Court about:

  • parental roles and responsibilities;
  • how your children will spend time and communicate with their parents, family members and other significant people in their lives;
  • any safety issues;
  • support services or interventions that may help the children or adults, like attending a post-separation parenting program.

Key Points:

  • Family reports are prepared by accredited professionals, such as a social worker or psychologist.
  • Family reports are frequently obtained in parenting cases before the Court, but can also be obtained in cases where there is no application before the Court.
  • The information you provide to the report writer is not confidential – assume that any information you provide to the family report writer will be seen by the other parent or a judge.

Writing the family report

An accredited professional, such as a social worker or psychologist, will write the family report. Report writers usually have significant experience working with children and families, and acting as a court expert. The Court considers report writers to be independent experts in family law matters.

Collecting information

  • The report writer is usually provided with a formal joint letter of instruction, outlining their appointment as the report-writer, the parents’ and children’s names and dates of birth and similar information. If there are court proceedings on foot, the report writer is usually provided with copies of the court documents.
  • The report writer will meet with the adults and children, both individually and where appropriate, together.
  • The report writer usually meets with everyone at his/her office.
  • The report writer decides who they need to meet with during the course of the appointment/s (e.g. siblings, new partners etc).

The report writer may consider and report on:

  • your children and their individual needs;
  • your children’s relationships with family members and significant others;
  • your children’s views – if they want to tell the report writer;
  • your views about what is in your children’s best interests;
  • your family history, including the history of parenting roles and arrangements and the relationships between the adults (past and present);
  • what is currently happening in your child’s life;
  • issues relevant to the children’s and adults’ safety.

If you have any questions about your family report appointment you can ask the independent children’s lawyer (if there is one), your lawyer (if you have one) or the report writer.

Appointment preparation

  • Think about what is best for your children and why you think it is best for them.
  • Tell the children they are going to see someone who is helping you to work out the best way for the children to spend time with people who are important to them.
  • Whoever is bringing the children needs to bring someone to look after them while the adults are being interviewed.
  • Bring food, drinks and some things to keep the children entertained.
  • The adults should bring along, or have in mind, a play activity they can do with the children as the report writer may want to observe the children spending time with the adults.

Collected information use

The report writer will use the information they collect during this process to write the family report, but will usually also read any court material. The information you provide to the report writer is not confidential. The Court can access any information collected by the report writer, even if it is not used in the final family report. If the matter goes to a hearing, the report writer may be required to give evidence at your hearing about your case.

Who sees the family report

Once the report writer has finished writing the family report, a copy will be given to:

  • the Court;
  • the independent children’s lawyer (if one has been appointed);
  • you or your lawyer (if you have one); and
  • the person you are in dispute with or their lawyer (if they have one).

You are not permitted to give or show a copy of the report to anyone other than your lawyer and a party to the proceedings.

Family reports can help both where a matter is before a court and a judge requires expert evidence to assist in making a decision, or sometimes in circumstances where parties are unable to agree on parenting matters and agree upon jointly approaching an expert for a report and recommendations about their parenting arrangements.