By Jessica Swain, Senior Associate
What is a Child Impact Report and what can I expect?
When parenting matters are litigated, the Court’s paramount consideration is what is in the best interests of the child(ren). In light of this, children are generally excluded from participating in the proceedings and cannot be called as witnesses or compelled to express opinions about any care arrangements involving them. However, there are means of obtaining the views and opinions of children, one of which is through a Child Impact Report.
A Child Impact Report is a helpful tool which is used by Judges and Registrars in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to address the views of the respective parents/ carers involved in the proceedings and the child(ren) and to assess whether the issues in dispute can be narrowed or even resolved in the preliminary stages of litigation. The reports also assist the Court in determining how matters should be managed.
Orders for a Child Impact Report, which are made pursuant to Section 11F of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), are often ordered by a Judge or Judicial Registrar in the early stages of parenting proceedings.
Who prepares the Report?
A Child Impact Report is prepared by a Court Child Expert, who is a qualified psychologist or social worker, who is employed by the Court and works in an area called the Court Children’s Service. Court Child Experts are experienced in matters involving child and family issues after separation and divorce.
Assessments are conducted by the Court Child Expert in two (2) stages which form the basis of the Child Impact Report. There is no cost to the parties for a Child Impact Report.
What is the Assessment Process?
The Assessment for a Child Impact Report is conducted in two stages:
Stage 1: The child(ren)’s parents/carer will be interviewed separately by the Court Child Expert.
The parties will be asked questions with respect to:
- the relationship of the child(ren) with each parent/carer involved in the parenting proceedings (including the history of caring for the child(ren) and what has changed after separation);
- the age/maturity or developmental stage of the child(ren);
- safety issues/other risk issues which may impact either party and/or the child(ren) including issues such as:
- Family violence;
- Drug and alcohol issues;
- Parental mental health issues;
- Identifying children’s risk issues;
- Issues impacting on the children (such as their current parenting arrangements and any parental conflict).
- the co-parenting relationship after separation and the impact it may be having on the children; and
- any other matter(s) the Court Child Expert may consider relevant.
Information provided to the Court Child Expert is not confidential and can therefore be used as evidence in the Court proceedings.
In most matters, Stage 1 is conducted virtually via Microsoft Teams.
Stage 2: During the stage 2 assessment, the child(ren) meets with and is interviewed by the Court Child Expert in person (generally on a separate day to the interviews with the parties in Stage 1).
If there is more than one child, the Court Child Expert may meet with the children together and separately.
The child(ren) are asked questions with respect to:
- their feelings of the family situation after separation; and
- their experiences of the family situation after separation.
A child is not required to express their views or wishes if they do not wish to do so.
Following the interviews with the child(ren), the Court Child Expert may wish to speak with the parents/carers again or alternatively see the parents/carers interactions with their child(ren).
How to prepare your child(ren) to meet with the Court Child Expert?
Child(ren) must not be coached or told what to say to the Court Child Expert.
It is best for the parties to explain to the child(ren) that they are going to speak with someone who would like to talk to them and hear about their views and experiences but they do not need to talk about anything if they do not wish to.
If you are involved in parenting proceedings and have questions about the processes, such as a Child Impact Report, do not hesitate to contact our Mills Oakley Family Law team who are highly experienced in all areas of Family Law to assist you with your queries.