If you have a parenting matter before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), chances are the Court may order one or more of the below parenting reports that will assist the Court in making determinations about what is in the best interests of the child/ren involved. Given the complexity that is often involved in these reports, we have outlined below, the five reports you may encounter and the purpose that each of these reports serve.

Child Impact Report

A Child Impact Report is a preliminary report that can only be prepared by a Court Child Expert appointed by the Court Children’s Service.

This report is focused on the needs of the child/ren, their views and experiences of their family. The purpose of this report is to assist the Court in determining whether there are any risks to the child from spending time or living with the parties, the nature of the relationship that the child has with each parent or the parties involved in the dispute (if necessary), along with any developmental needs the child may have.

While the exact process of a Child Impact Report may vary depending on the needs and circumstances of each child and their family, they are usually conducted in a two-stage approach:

  1. The Court Child Expert meets with each party (usually each of the parents);
  2. The Court Child Expert then meets with the child or children – unless it is determined inappropriate to do so. Often this determination could be made in circumstances where the child/ren are particularly young, or if they have a health condition that may impact their ability to engage with the process.

Often this meeting occurs in person and the Child Court Expert may also choose to observe how the child/ren interacts with each of the parties.

This type of report is only likely to be ordered in circumstances where there are parenting issues that need to be addressed prior to an interim hearing (usually being the intermediate point of a Family Court matter, where orders are made on temporary basis or until final orders are made by the Court). Otherwise, the Court may order the parties to obtain a Child Impact Assessment from a privately funded organisation (which is conducted in a similar way to the internal Court process outlined above).

If the matter progresses to a final hearing (meaning the parties are still unable to reach an agreement), there are four additional reports that may need to be ordered, depending on the nature of the parenting dispute and the outstanding issues that a Court is required to determine.

Child Impact Addendum Report

A Child Impact Addendum Report builds upon the initial Child Impact Report (CIR). This report is prepared by the same Court Child Expert who prepared the initial Child Impact Report. This includes:

  1. an in-depth assessment of the issues and needs of the child/ren as identified in the Child Impact Report;
  2. highlights any further issues or needs of the children that have arisen since the original report;
  3. considers any parenting orders the Court has been asked to make and how the Orders might impact the child/ren.

The Court Child Expert can make additional enquiries that will help them prepare this report.

Specific Issues Report

The Specific Issues Report is a very limited report that only looks at a particular event or topic in dispute by the two parties, as determined by the Court. For example: whether a child is at risk of sexual abuse while in a parent’s care. This report also incorporates the Court Child Expert’s opinion and conclusions; however they can only be in relation to that specific event or topic and the Expert cannot go outside of that scope to look at any other issues. 

Family Report

A Family Report is a more extensive report that takes a comprehensive approach to the primary and secondary considerations that a Court considers relevant when determining what is in the best interests of the child/ren. These considerations are set out in the Family Law Act 1975 and include things such as: the various rights of the child, including to safety, to be protected from harm, and to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, as well as whether the child has expressed views that ought to be given proper weight. You can view the full list here.

The final result is that when all of the risk factors, relationships, children’s development and wellbeing have been taken into consideration, the report writer (usually a Family Consultant) can provide more comprehensive recommendations about long-term parenting arrangements best suited to the child/ren involved.

While the exact process of a Family Report may vary depending on the needs and circumstances of each child and their family, they are usually conducted as follows:

  1. The Report Writer will review all of the court material filed by each party and any additional materials provided by external bodies, i.e., schools, medical practitioners, government departments, the Police Force of the relevant state or territory, and/or the Australian Federal Police;
  2. The Report Writer will meet with each party (usually each of the parents or guardian);
  3. The Report Writer then meets with the child/ren separately, unless it is deemed inappropriate to do so.

Where relevant, the report writer may also meet with step-parents or new partners of the child’s parents or guardians, they may also opt to observe the children interacting with their parents.

Family Reports are prepared by Family Consultants, typically psychologists or social workers who specialise in or have experience in the areas of child and family issues after separation and divorce. Family Consultants can be internal employees of the Court i.e. Court Child Experts who act in the role of a family consultant when preparing these types of report. Alternatively, they can be private practitioners who have the relevant qualifications and experience to prepare these reports (as determined by the Court).

Update to a Family Report

An Updated Family Report acts as an addition to an existing Family Report and is usually required when there have been changes to the issues or relationships within the family unit that were not previously assessed, or if there has been a change in the family’s circumstances sometime between the preparation of the initial report and the matter progressing to a final hearing (which could be a matter of years). The Family Consultant then needs to determine if there needs to be a change to any previous recommendations made.

In some circumstances, the Updated Family Report can be avoided if the changes or issues can be addressed during a cross-examination of the Family Consult, throughout the course of the final hearing.

To learn more about the new Court process for family law matters, see our article: “The new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has officially merged: here’s what you need to know.”

Need assistance with understanding what parenting reports you may need?

If you need assistance determining which report is best suited to your parenting dispute, as well as the best time to obtain a report, our experienced Sydney Family Lawyers are here to assist. Contact us on 02 9262 4003 for a confidential discussion or submit an online enquiry.

The content of this article is intended as a general guide to the subject matter. For specific legal advice about your individual circumstances, please contact our experienced lawyers.