Where possible, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) will exclude children from participating in parenting proceedings. Children cannot be called as witnesses in court and are not compelled to express opinions about parenting arrangements. Additionally, it is considered inappropriate to discuss proceedings with your child(ren). However, there are a few forums in which a child’s views can be canvassed. This blog will speak specifically to the form of child interview known as a Child Impact Report.
What is a Child Impact Report?
A Child Impact Report, or a Section 11F Report is a report ordered by a judge or registrar, designed to provide insight into family relationships. They are typically ordered in the early stages of parenting proceedings, opposed to Family Consultant Reports, which are ordered under Section 62G of the Family Law Act when proceedings have progressed to a final hearing stage. The purpose of a Child Impact Report is to address the views of parents and child(ren) in the early stages to see if it can help parents to refine the issues in dispute, or even, resolve the matter.
Assessment for a Child Impact Report occurs in two stages:
- In stage one, the child’s parents will be interviewed separately and asked about their child(ren) generally and whether there are any ongoing risks to them in co-parenting after separation. The interview can take up to 2 hours and is typically conducted via an online platform, such as Microsoft Teams.
- Stage two occurs in person on a separate day. The interviewer will meet with the child(ren) and may wish to speak to the parents again or observe the parents interactions with their child(ren). The court advises participants to set aside time from 9am to 1pm on the day of Stage 2.
Who conducts the interviews and prepares the report?
A Court Child Expert will conduct the interviews and prepare the report. Court Child Experts are qualified psychologists or social workers who specialise in children’s issues during court proceedings. They work in the Court Children’s service.
Can I sit in with my child whilst their interview is being conducted?
The Court Child Expert may ask to observe your interactions with your child, however, you cannot sit with your child whilst they are being interviewed. Court Child Experts have experience working with children and will pose all questions in an accessible, friendly and approachable manner. If your child feels uncomfortable, they will not be compelled to respond to questions or give their opinion.
What questions will my child be asked?
Your children will be given the opportunity to express any thoughts or feelings about the proceedings. The Court Child Expert may ask about your child’s:
- Relationship with parents;
- Experiences living with each parent, including any incidents that are of concern to the Court Child Expert;
- Weekly and daily routines, including friendships and schoolwork;
- Feelings, emotions or beliefs in relation to their parents’ separation;
- Relationship with siblings, if applicable.
You must not coach your child on what to say but can advise them that they are going to meet with someone who would like to ask about their experiences and views.
How much weight is placed on the findings from a Child Impact Report?
The Child Impact Report is only one source of evidence that the Court will rely on when making Orders. It will be considered in conjunction with all other evidence filed in the proceedings. The Court is not required to make orders in accordance with the report’s recommendations.
That said, at that early stage of proceedings, the report could be the only source available to the court which is independent evidence. If the parties disagree about what is in the best interests of a child, the report can provide an objective overview of the circumstances. If you disagree with the findings of a Child Impact Report, it is best to raise this in court and with your lawyer. If the matter proceeds to trial, then the report writer may be cross-examined.
If you are going through parenting proceedings and/or are concerned with the implications of a Child Impact Report, contact our Adelaide office on (08) 8223 3199, our Millicent office on (08) 8733 2500 or our Whyalla office on (08) 8645 7666 to book an appointment with one of our Family Law Solicitors.
This blog was written by Senior Associate Sriyani Partridge, with law clerk and fourth-year law student Alice McKay.