A Family Court Consultant is appointed by the Court or by an independent legal practitioner to conduct in-person Family Report interviews to assist in the compilation of a Family Report of approximately 25 to 35 pages which explores issues such as family history, the background of each parent, the parents’ relationship, interviews and/or observations of the children and significant relevant issues.
The completed report aims to provide conclusions and recommendations for the benefit of the judge presiding over the case, to assist them to make appropriate orders in the best interests of the children.
The information below shares how to prepare for your day of interviews and important information to consider before you arrive.
A Family Report is compiled after extensive interviews with family members, including parents, children and, if relevant, stepparents, grandparents or other extended family members. This can be an intense and often tiring process but it is necessary to ensure the Report is comprehensive and includes all significant information. My job is to conduct thorough and rigorous interviews whilst maintaining a calm and conflict-free atmosphere. This enables me to complete a Family Report that addresses as succinctly as possible the best interests of the children and how their situation can be improved and their needs met.
Before interviews are conducted, each party is sent a detailed document (found here) with all relevant information. This is available to all participants. In addition, each party is forwarded a confidential questionnaire which covers sensitive issues such as domestic violence or child abuse and / or neglect. It is important to fill out this document with as much factual information as possible so that I am able to manage the parties in an appropriate manner on the day of interviews. It’s also important to remember that this document is a screening tool, and that it is confidential and will NOT be shared with the other party. Unlike subpoenas and affidavits, this is a private document to assist in decisions about contact between the parties on the day of interviews. If you are fearful or apprehensive about any aspect of the interviews, please note your concerns on this document so that I can prevent any problems or difficulties on the day.
I have a full day set aside for your interviews. This is to allow me sufficient time to interview all relevant parties, and to re-interview individuals if necessary. Please be prepared to be available for the entire day. Your child/ren will need the whole day off school.
It is important that your partner or other relevant people are present if I have asked them to be available. This may include other members of your household.
It is NOT necessary to ‘prepare’ your children for the interviews, as this may cause unnecessary anxiety. It is often best to simply tell them that ‘We are seeing someone who is going to help make decisions about what will happen in the future and he will want to meet you and talk to you about how things are going for you’. Before your interviews, you will receive a more detailed document (find the link here) which will explain this further.
The playrooms have an assortment of toys available for your children. Please bring any especially comforting toys or, if your child/ren are older, books or other activities that they may enjoy during waiting time. Please bring suitable snacks and water.
The Interview Process
You will receive a letter informing you of the structure and timing of your interviews. Usually, the interviews will begin at 9am with the parent who does not have the children in their care on that day. The other parent is usually scheduled to arrive at 11am with the children. This is to reduce the time that the children are required to be in the rooms, to manage their tiredness or restlessness. I understand that this will be a new environment and that your children may be unsettled as a result, especially as the day goes on. This will not affect the outcome of the report or reflect on your parenting capacity.
It is important that you arrive on time to facilitate co-ordination between parties. Please do not leave the rooms or the building unless you are advised to do so during a break. Please be aware that if there are domestic violence concerns, arrangements will be structured to allow parties to have no contact with each other.
Your children will be interviewed separately, together as a sibling group, and with each parent where appropriate. These interviews will be conducted with the least amount of discomfort or stress on the children, while still enabling me to speak to them about issues of concern and to hear their views. Younger children may not be interviewed but may be observed in play with their parents separately.
I understand that this is not a natural or familiar play environment for them; please do not be unduly worried that this will reflect negatively on the observation. I take into account the fact that both you and your children may be anxious, nervous, uncomfortable or unsettled and I will attempt to reduce this stress as much as possible. It is important to be honest and open in your interactions with both me and your children, so that the best possible outcome may be obtained.
It is assumed that while I conduct interviews with you, the other parent will care for the children in an adjacent room, unless there are current Court orders of no contact, or only supervised contact. If this is the case, please arrange for another adult to accompany you to the interviews to care for the children while I am interviewing you. It is not appropriate for the children to sit in on adult interviews.
What to Expect
I will ask you questions about your history and background, including personal and perhaps sensitive information about your mental health, drug and/or alcohol use, and physical living arrangements and capabilities.
I will inquire about your history of care of the children, your concerns and your proposals for the future. I may ask for your version of a notable incident mentioned by the other parent. If your children live with you or spend time with you, I will ask you to detail your daily activities and the kind of interactions and communications you share with them.
While some of these lines of questioning may seem irrelevant to you, please consider that it is my duty to the Court to follow all avenues of inquiry to determine what is in the best interests of the children, even if that may not be obvious to you at the time.
At the beginning of the day, I will explain the process of the interviews to the children (according to their age/s) and answer any questions they have as honestly and simply as possible.
It is possible that I may spend slightly more time with one parent than with another, only because some people are able to provide succinct information relatively quickly, and others take longer to provide all the relevant details. The amount of time I spend with each parent will not be reflected in the balance of information I provide in the Family Report.
If you have any pertinent issue you wish to discuss that you have not previously canvassed in your confidential questionnaire or affidavit material, your interview is your chance to be heard.
But please note that if you leave the interviews and later remember something you consider to be of importance, you may include this in a further affidavit (or instruct your solicitor to do so) which will then be available to all parties.
How Your Family Report is Used
Your Family Report will be released some weeks after the day of interviews. This allows me enough time to consolidate my notes, refer to any further information needed, and to follow up on any loose threads that may have arisen during the interviews.
The Report is usually released simultaneously to each party (or their solicitor), although sometimes it is released directly to the Judge, depending on the situation.
You or your solicitor are then able to read the Report and see the observations, conclusions and recommendations.
Every effort is made to ensure that the Report is an accurate representation of the picture presented to me on the day of interviews, along with corresponding and supporting material.
Please note that it is not the Family Report Consultant’s role to make judgements about facts; their sole responsibility is to report the facts and relevant observations as a result of the Consultant interviewing ALL parties and making conclusions based on information from a number of different sources.
Please remember that the entire Family Report process (including the interviews and the final Report) remains an adult issue, and that children and adolescents do not have the capacity to understand and conceptualise the complexity of issues involved, nor should they have to shoulder this responsibility.
Just as you should not tell the children what to say before the interviews, you should not ask them afterwards what they said, or show them the finished Report.
Your children will remain safe during the interview process and will not be compelled to do anything or to talk about anything that they do not wish to talk about. They will not be required to express their wishes, or even be expected to talk at all if they do not want to do so.