Before anything happens in court, the Judge will consider the documents and applications provided by the parties In Chambers. Based on the written information that has been provided, the Judge may ask for a specialist report or reports to be obtained if it is clear that more information is needed to progress resolution. The types of specialist reports a Judge can ask for include:
- Reports from a social worker
- Reports on any aspect of a child’s cultural background
- Medical reports, for example, if a child has a serious medical condition that is relevant where parents disagree about medical treatment
- Psychiatric reports where a child has, or may have, a mental illness
- Psychological reports to look at, for example, the child’s relationship with his or her parents and the advantages and disadvantages for the child of the options being proposed for the child’s care.
Views of parties
- The Judge must take into account the wishes of the parties when deciding whether to ask for a specialist report if he or she knows what the parties think or can readily find this out.
- The Judge may also consult with the parties’ lawyers and the lawyer for child as to what the report will cover.
- If parties object to a report being obtained, are unhappy with the contents of the report, or with how it was prepared, their lawyer should raise it with the Judge.
- Parties cannot choose who writes the report.
- A report usually takes 8 weeks to be prepared.
- The court will give the report writer a date for completing the report and may also ask them to give progress reports while they’re preparing it.
- At the same time as it appoints the report writer, the court will usually set a date for a hearing, usually within the next 10 weeks.
- At that hearing, a timetable for the next steps in the case will be settled on.
Court’s power to direct meetings
If the Judge directs a report to be prepared, they may at the same time direct:
- The child to meet with the report writer.
- One or more of the parties to meet with the report writer.
- The child and one or more of the parties to meet with the report writer together.
- If a party or the child fails to meet with the report writer as directed by the court, the report writer must notify the court, and the court may make further directions.
Distribution of social worker and psychologist reports
If the Judge directs a report from a social worker or a psychologist, the registrar must copy the report to:
- The lawyer acting for each party.
- The party themselves if they are unrepresented.
- The lawyer for child.
In some cases the Court:
- May order that a lawyer acting for a party does not give or show the report to their client.
- May order that the report is not copied to an unrepresented party if the Court is satisfied that information report would place the child concerned or another person at risk of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
- May appoint a lawyer to assist the Court to explain the purpose and contents of the report to an unrepresented person.
- Must clarify whether the lawyer for child should give or show the report to the child.
- In all cases the lawyer for child must explain to the child the purpose and contents of the report, unless the lawyer considers that to do so would be contrary to the welfare and best interests of the child
- May hear evidence from a party or a lawyer for child as to the contents of the report
- May call as a witness the person who made or prepared the report.
In most cases parties will have to pay part of the costs of obtaining the specialist report(s). There is no cost for a social worker’s report.
Social Worker reports
The Court may direct that a copy of an application for guardianship or a parenting order (other than an interim parenting order) is given to the Ministry of Social Development. A Ministry of Social Development social worker must then prepare a report on the application. They may appear in Court personally or by a lawyer to talk about the report that they have prepared.
When there is an issue that requires a more in depth analysis on the effects/impact on the child’s psychological state a Court may order a report to be prepared by a psychologist. This is for example when there is parental alienation, risk of exposure to further conflict, or in relocation cases. The Court must specify the brief of the report and what it is to cover out of the following:
- how current arrangements for the child’s care are working for the child
- The child’s relationship with each party, including, if appropriate, the child’s attachment to each party
- The child’s relationship with other significant persons in the child’s life
- The effect or likely effect on the child of each party’s parenting skills
- The effect or likely effect on the child of the parties’ ability or otherwise to co-operate in the parenting of the child
- The advantages and disadvantages for the child of the options for the care of the child
- Any matter that the court specifies
The approval of the Court is required for a second opinion (critique of the original psychologist report), and this is only given in exceptional cases. References: Care of Children Act 2004, ss 132-134 If you have questions about specialist reports, please contact our office by email or phone (09) 309 4647. We’d be happy to answer them for you.
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