FAMILY REPORTS: CAN YOU DISPUTE THEM?
September 8, 2016
A decision of the Family Court has confirmed that Family Reports can only be disputed in rare circumstances.
Everyone wants what’s best for their kids. So strong is the desire that it often draws parties into parenting disputes in which Courts and experts have to assess all the evidence to come up with a solution.
What are Family Reports?
In Family Court matters involving children, experts are sometimes engaged to report to the Court on what is best for the kids. The Court can order a Family Report to be given by an expert and it will also require that the expert be agreed upon by both parties and that the parties share the costs.
Once this has happened, neither party is then allowed to provide a subsequent report to the Court from another expert without the Court’s permission.
This was the issue in the Family Court decision of Mullaly.
The parties had separated and a shared parenting arrangement was in place for their only child. The mother wanted to move with the child to the United States. The father sought an order from the Court to prevent her from doing so.
The Court ordered a Family Report and the judge provided them with the names of 3 experts. They both agreed to appoint E as the expert.
E had extensive qualifications and experience as a psychologist.
E made her Report to the Court, recommending that the current caring arrangements be continued. She said that relocating to the US would:
- Harm the quality and quantity of the time that the father could spend with the child.
- Harm the child’s ability to continue to have strong relationships with his father and extended family.
The mother then made an application to have the Report excluded from evidence. She sought the Court’s permission to submit a report from a different expert.
The mother claimed that E:
- Was not a Family Consultant under the Family Court Regulations.
- Had failed to properly address the questions she was asked.
- Had failed to set out her findings of fact.
- Did not have specialised knowledge.
The Court refused the mother’s application and found that:
- There was nothing in the Regulations or the Court’s orders that said that only Family Consultants could provide Family Reports.
- The mother had insisted that E be included on the list of names.
- Both parties agreed on E to provide the Report.
- The mother only raised her objections after the Family Report was published.
How to dispute a Family Report
Once an expert is appointed to provide a Family Report, there is very little that can be done to dispute the Report.
If there is any doubt about an expert, objections should be raised as soon as possible and in any event before the Report is published.
The Court said that there were ways to address any problems with a Family Report. Under the Family Court Rules, a party can seek clarification from an expert by attending a conference or by submitting a list of questions for the expert to answer.
But once the Report has been published, permission will only be granted for an alternative expert report in very rare circumstances.
Great care should be taken when considering whether to agree to a Family Report and which expert to engage. Websters Lawyers are experienced in family law matters and well-placed to advise you about such issues.