What to do when the Family Report Writer gets it wrong
If you are involved in a parenting dispute, it is not unusual for parties to agree to (or for the court to order) the preparation of a family report.
A family report is a written report prepared by a family report writer – usually a social worker or a psychologist – setting out their professional assessment of a family. Their assessment is made after interviewing the parents, other significant people to the children (which may include new partners or grandparents) and, depending on their age, also the children.
The report writer will usually conclude their report with recommendations on what arrangements they believe will best meet the future care, welfare and development needs of the children – in other words, what arrangements are in the children’s best interests.
But what can you do when the recommendations of the family report are not what you expected? Here are three simple tips for when you feel that the family report writer has missed the mark.
1. Read the report from a forensic point of view
Read the family report “forensically” to see if there have been any errors made by the family report writer which they have used as a basis to support their recommendations.
Reading a report forensically means you should read the report from start to finish and resist the urge to flip straight to the recommendations at the back. This way, you can follow the report writer’s process of assessing your family and your reading of the report is not tainted by knowing the conclusions in advance.
A family report writer is not bound by the same rules of evidence as a Judge. If the report writer has made an assumption or “finding” against a party and used that as a basis for their recommendations, but their inference is not supported by evidence (e.g., records produced to the court under subpoena or in affidavit material), this may be a ground to oppose the court making orders in line with the report writer’s recommendations.
2. Take the recommendations on board
If the family report has some observations or recommendations, take them on board and think about the merit of them. If you can show the Judge (or even the family report writer, as sometimes an updated report is prepared later) that you have had insight into the observations or recommendations and taken them on board, this could lead to more favourable recommendations or outcomes for you.
For example, if an observation was made that your child was being exposed to your negative feelings about the other parent, you should consider attending upon a counsellor to obtain assistance to work through those issues, and take steps to ensure you only speak well about and interact positively with the other parent in your child’s presence.
3. Find evidence to support your desired outcome
Occasionally a family report writer will give alternative recommendations in their report, being that if the court found ‘x’ then they would make one set of recommendations but if the court found ‘y’ then there is a different set of recommendations.
Think about what evidence that you can produce to the court in your case to help support the outcome you want, for example an affidavit from a witness or a report from a doctor. Alternatively, if you are trying to find evidence to challenge the other party’s case, what subpoenas could be filed that might produce independent evidence that weakens or disproves their case?
If you feel the report writer has really got it wrong, it can also be a good idea to put the report down for a couple of days and then come back to it with fresh eyes and an open mind to see if it still seems to miss the mark after your initial emotional reaction has settled down. If you have a family lawyer acting for you, you should talk to them about any concerns and see what options they think are available to you.
At the end of the day, the family report process can be a great opportunity for someone independent to meet with everyone involved in a family and make an assessment about what is in the best interest of your child. Most family report writers are very experienced and can take into account lots of different factors to inform their recommendations. However, they can only work with information gathered over relatively short interviews, and sometimes they might miss the mark. The good news is that a report writer’s recommendations are not final, and if you feel they have got it wrong, there are steps you can take to demonstrate why another outcome should be considered.