The role of a child psychologist in separation

For separated families who are disputing care arrangements for their children the preparation of a Family Assessment Report by a child psychologist or case worker is often a crucial part of achieving a resolution. A Family Assessment Report, however, should not be considered to predetermine the outcome of the dispute.

A Family Assessment report is described by the Court as “… a document written by a family consultant appointed by the Court… [to provide]… an independent assessment of the issues in the case and can help the judge hearing the case to make decisions about arrangements for the child/ren. .”

Given that the Judge will not talk to the child or children directly a Family Assessment report allows the Court to gain an insight, via a person specialised in dealing with children, regarding what care arrangements may be in the best interest of the child or children take into account their care, welfare and development. The preparation of a report will include interviews with the parents, any new partners, potentially grandparents and the children depending on their age as well as observed interactions between the children and the significant adults in their life. The children often express their views regarding care arrangements to the report writer and often it is uncovered that the children are much more aware of the proceedings then may be appropriate. The report writer will also consider documents filed by the parties in the proceedings.

At the conclusion of the Family Assessment Report the report writer will give recommendations regarding the care arrangements for the children. There may be a number of different recommendations depending of whether the parties’ competing positions are accepted by the Court such as allegations regarding family violence.

It is important however to understand that simply because a report writer has made a particular recommendation that it does not mean that the Court is bound to agree with the report writer’s recommendations when determining care arrangements. Nonetheless the Family Assessment report is critical.

Your family lawyer will assist you to prepare for the Family Assessment Report process and then have a discussion with you once the report is released about the next steps. Careful preparation for the Family Assessment Report is key to ensure that all the correct information is available to the report writer and conveyed appropriately.

In the recent case of Rochford & Fitzhugh[1], the Court had originally rejected the mother’s request to relocate with her two year old child on the basis that given the age of the child it would be difficult for the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with their father. This decision was based largely on the Family Assessment Report which also expressed those concerns. On appeal, however, the Court considered that the Family Assessment Report did not take into account a number of factors which were relevant including that the mother had maintained her older child’s relationship with their father, despite relocating away from him.

While it is not uncommon to be upset by the recommendations in the Family Assessment Report it is important that you discuss the report with your family lawyer as there may be deficiencies in the report which you wish to challenge or seek clarification about. After considering the report your lawyer will be about to give you advice about the options available to you.

If you wish to take issue with any aspect of the family assessment report then the way such concerns are addressed and the timing of you expressing your concern must be carefully considered. Your lawyer will also be able to advise you whether it is worth pursuing any concerns you might have.

It is said that going through a separation is one of the most traumatic times you can go through.  So if you are facing or going through a separation and you need someone to guide you through the impact, we are here to help. To speak without caring, experienced Family Law team simply call (08)82121077 or register your details here and we’ll be in touch soon.