In a contested matter regarding children, if the children are at a developmental stage that they can engage in meaningful conversation about the relevant issues, a court will require that there is a family report prepared to be considered by the court before making a final decision.
The report is prepared by a psychologist (sometimes social workers) who reads the court documents, meets with the parties and the children, speaks to other relevant people (schools, doctors etc.) and writes a report with their recommendation of what are the arrangements that will be in the best interests of the children.
Family reports often lead to parties settling because:
- it is powerful to hear recommendations from an expert
- issues are clarified
- people don't want to continue the proceedings
- reports helps people recognise what is in their children's best interests
If a matter doesn't resolve the report writer will attend court and be cross-examined during the hearing of a matter — which is often more of a conversation in the court with the judge testing thoughts about the best orders.
The court employs a small amount of these staff directly and contracts others but the vast majority are private reports where the parties pay the cost associated with the report, which can be significant.
A family report is a useful step in family law proceedings but it is important to understand that process and be well prepared for the report appointments.