If parents have been unable to reach agreement following separation with respect to the care arrangements of their children, the engagement of a Family Report Writer (also referred to as a Family Consultant) may be necessary.
When is a Family Report Writer engaged
Family Report Writers are often appointed by the Court after proceedings have been commenced when the Court requires an opinion and recommendation as to what care arrangements are in the best interests of the children following separation.
It can also be helpful for a report to be prepared prior to proceedings being commenced. Often, once an assessment is undertaken and recommendations are expressed, parents are able to make more informed decisions about parenting arrangements and hopefully reach an agreement in this regard (thereby avoiding Court).
What happens after a Family Report Writer is engaged
Once engaged, a Report Writer will organise a number of interviews/observations with the parents and the children, which may include:
1. An interview alone with each parent;
2. An interview alone with each child (should this be age appropriate);
3. An observation of the children with each of the parents alone, and/or with both parents present (should this be appropriate taking into consideration risk factors and issues in dispute);
4. Interviewing other household members and significant others (for example, extended family and each of the parents’ new partners).
During these interviews/observations, the Report Writer may collect information about the parties’ family history including the parenting roles and arrangements, and the children’s relationships with each of the parents and other household members/significant others. They may also seek information about each of the children and their individual needs, and the children’s views in relation to the parenting arrangements. While a child’s view can be considered in determining what is in the child’s best interest (subject to the age, maturity and other factors relating to the child), it is not the determining factor when considering parenting arrangements. After the interviews/observations have taken place, the Report Writer will commence writing their report and making their recommendations.
A Family Report Writer will often make recommendations about:
1. Who should have parental responsibility for the children (click here
to see our article explaining the differences between “parental responsibility” and “time” arrangements);
2. Who the children should live with;
3. If the children should spend substantial and significant time with one parent and
4. live with the other. If it is not recommended that the children live equally with both parents, the Report Writer may recommend how much time the children should spend with the parent with whom they are not living with. If the Report Writer considers that those arrangements should change over time, they may recommend how quickly that change should occur (for example, increasing from say 3 nights per fortnight with one parent, to an equal week-about arrangement, gradually increasing over a period of weeks/months).
5. The time the children should spend with each parent during school holidays and special occasions (birthdays, the Christmas and Easter periods, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day); and
6. How often the children should communicate with each parent and the means of that communication (for example, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday night between 6pm and 7pm via Facetime/Skype/Messenger).
Family Reports can be given significant weight in parenting proceedings, and it is important that parties are appropriately informed and prepared prior to engaging a Report Writer and attending interviews/observations.