Family and other expert reports
Family and other expert reports can provide the Court with an independent forensic assessment of particular issues. Commonly these include the children’s relationships with the parties, the children’s views and the parties’ parenting capacity. It may include the emotional and psychological effects of exposure to family violence, the effect upon a child or partner victim of contact with the perpetrator and whether therapeutic intervention may assist a perpetrator to live without violence. The expert appointed should have specialised knowledge based on his or her training, study or experience. The expert’s role is to assist the Court in an impartial way with matters within his or her knowledge and capability. [Rule 15.59 FLR, Division 15.2 FCCR]
Reports from experts, counsellors and social workers who have seen either of the parties over a period of time can also provide the Court with a valuable source of information on particular issues.
If the Court makes findings of fact about the allegations of family violence or abuse or the risk of family violence or abuse prior to the report process, the report writer is to be provided with a copy of the findings and the report is to proceed on that basis.
In considering the appointment of an expert witness to prepare a family report or other report, the Court may wish to satisfy itself that the expert witness has appropriate qualifications and experience to assess the impact and effects (both short and long term) of family violence or abuse, or of being exposed to the risk of family violence or abuse, on the children and any party to the proceedings.
In the framing of orders for a family report or other export report, the judicial officer may wish to consider the following matters19 and, where appropriate, direct the reporter to:
- Specifically address the issue of family violence or abuse or the risk of family violence or abuse.
- Assess the harm the children have suffered or are at risk of suffering if the orders sought are or are not made.
- Consider whether or not there would be benefits, and if so, the nature of those benefits, if the child spent time with the person against whom the allegations are made.
- Assess whether the physical and emotional safety of the child and the person alleging the family violence or abuse can be secured before, during and after any contact the child has with the parent or other person against whom the allegations are made.
- Ascertain the views of the child or children in light of the allegations of family violence or abuse or the risk of family violence or abuse when it is safe to do so.
- Where family violence or abuse is established, report on:
- the impact of the family violence or abuse
- whether the person acknowledges that family violence or abuse has occurred
- whether the person accepts some or all responsibility for the family violence or abuse
- whether, and the extent to which, the person accepts that the family violence or abuse was inappropriate
- whether the person has participated or is participating in any program, course or other activity to address the factors contributing towards his or her violent or abusive behaviour
- whether there is a need for the child and the other parent or carer to receive counselling or other form of treatment as a result of the family violence or abuse
- whether the person has expressed regret and shown some understanding of the impact of their behaviour on the other parent in the past and currently, and
- whether there are any indications that a person who has behaved violently or abusively and who is seeking to spend time with the child can reliably sustain that arrangement and how it will occur so that the child feels safe.
The reporter also needs to be informed whether the whereabouts of the party making the allegations has been suppressed and that those whereabouts not be revealed in the reporting process.
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