Parenting matters are often very stressful for all parties involved, children included. It is also an area that is fraught with complex and emotional issues and can be increasingly complicated as the children grow into adulthood.

The issue in these cases is to recognise the need to support their children whilst at the same time ensuring the children maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, as outlined in the paramount considerations in Section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975.

It is not unusual for one or more children to resist contact with one of their parents. The reason for the resistance is often nuanced and difficult for the Court to respond to. Whilst the Court can make Orders it feels are in the child’s best interests, it is futile to make such an Order without first understanding the emotional issues and/or trauma the children may experience. In those cases, the parties may consider attending family therapy.

If the parties do consider attending family therapy, the next question is whether the therapy will be reportable or non-reportable.

What is reportable family therapy?

As the name suggests, reportable family therapy is where the family therapy will report to the Court as to the progress of the therapy. In some instances, the Court will direct families to engage in family therapy where the parties are made aware at the outset that the therapist will be called on to provide evidence to the Court. The therapist may also be required to outline the parties’ progress with family therapy.

What is non-reportable family therapy?

In non-reportable family therapy, the Court may order parties to participate in non-reportable therapy and the children attend a therapist in a completely confidential setting, without the fear that any information disclosed at those sessions will be provided in Court.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of reportable family therapy?

Advantages

  • If an Independent Children’s Lawyer is appointed, they would be able to speak with the family therapist to discuss ongoing issues, the progress of family therapy, and whether there are any matters or concerns the Court should be made aware of.
  • If the Court become aware of any issues that arise in family therapy, it is able to make Orders which deal with this issue.
  • Where a Child Impact Report is ordered in a matter, the Court Child Expert will be able to speak with the family therapist and better understand the complexities of the issues in dispute.
  • The family therapist would likely have access to Court material, which would allow them to be better informed of both parties’ allegations. For example, in the case of Maher v Mills (2015), it was found that the family therapist involved was providing the child with counterproductive counselling as he was accepting unconfirmed allegations of sexual abuse from only the mother. Eventually, his evidence was found to be inadmissible as he had “lost professional impartiality” in accepting the mother’s evidence unquestioningly.

Disadvantages:

  • Some parties may feel apprehensive or appear to be disinterested in the process, especially in circumstances where the Court may become aware of the issues addressed during family therapy. For example, parties may be deliberately selective in what they say to the therapist as they know it may contradict what was said to the Court.
  • When children (who are often significantly affected by parental separation) meet with a therapist, it is often a very delicate and fragile relationship. So, when a practitioner reports on matters discussed with that child, it may damage their relationship, which might prevent any real progress from developing in the future.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of non-reportable family therapy?

Advantages:

  • It allows the parties and the children to feel as though they are in a safe space to discuss the issues and allow a party to confront and accept any damage they may have inflicted (whether consciously or unconsciously).
  • Non-reportable family therapy ensures that the important relationship between the practitioner and the party (and children) is protected as it avoids the risk that parties may feel betrayed by a practitioner disclosing private information to the Courts. In Hastings v March (2019), a Judge was asked to determine whether to permit into evidence the Subpoena material of a family therapist who had been treating the children for a number of years. The judge had serious concerns about the “potential damage to the therapeutic relationship” between the children and the therapist and as such upheld the objection and did not allow the material into evidence.

Disadvantages:

  • The Court would be unable to discuss family therapy with the practitioner. For example, if a Child Impact Report is being prepared, it may mean that the report could potentially not contain crucial information that would be relevant for the Judge to make a determination.
  • The family therapist may not be provided with all the necessary and relevant information in order to provide an effective therapeutic service, and in turn, their involvement with the family may actually be more harmful than beneficial.

How can we help you?

Whether family therapy is reportable or non-reportable, it is clear that any additional assistance by an experienced family therapist can be a vital resource for families. However, each case is unique and you should carefully consider whether family therapy is right for you.

If you or someone you know is undergoing separation, or considering family therapy, please contact the Family Law team at Antunes Lawyers on (02) 9964 0499 for more information.

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The articles on this website comprise legal general information and not legal advice. The general information presented here must not be relied upon without legal advice being sought. In the event that you wish to obtain legal advice on the contents of this general information you may do so by contacting our office or your existing solicitor.