What Is Family Dispute Resolution and Mediation?

By Relationships Australia

Changes to the family due to a relationship breakdown or separation can be confusing, stressful and emotional. But Family Dispute Resolution, also sometimes known as family mediation, can really help. Here, we explain what you need to know about Family Dispute Resolution, as well as how and where you can access the service in NSW.

What is Family Dispute Resolution? 

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a practical way for separating or separated partners to try and resolve disagreements, and make arrangements for the future. It’s a way of jointly working through decisions in relation to children, finances and property after a relationship has ended. The process can take place at any time – sometimes even years after a relationship has ended. 

The FDR process aims to help parents reach agreements on matters relating to their children such as living arrangements, effective communication, child support, education, healthcare, holiday arrangements and more. 

Sessions will take place with a qualified Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRPs), who’ll facilitate conversations around matters that can be sensitive and emotional, helping people develop their own agreements. The FDRP helps clients sort out issues, and develop mutually satisfactory, workable agreements. This process often reduces the need for stressful, expensive court hearings, and helps keep legal costs to a minimum.

What happens in Family Dispute Resolution? 

FDR offers a safe and balanced space for people to express their thoughts and needs. We focus on property and financial arrangements, how children’s needs are considered, and ensuring families are safe in mediation, and moving forward after separation.

The Family Dispute Resolution process involves:

  • Identifying issues that need to be resolved
  • People listening to each other without interruption
  • Sharing relevant information
  • Exploring ideas and options
  • Testing possible solutions
  • Putting decisions and workable agreements in writing

If an agreement cannot be reached, a Section 60I certificate can be issued instead – see more information below.

Is it mandatory for separating parents to see a mediator? 

The family law system in Australia encourages separating parents to try and develop a cooperative parenting solution themselves, without going through the Family Court system. The expectation is that applications to the Court will only be made if disputes can’t be resolved, or if an agreement can’t be reached through Family Dispute Resolution (FDR).

This means that – with a few exceptions – including in situations of family violence and child abuse – it’s mandatory for people to obtain a document known as a s60i Certificate, if they want to apply to the Court for a parenting order. The certificate confirms they have made a genuine attempt to resolve their dispute at Family Dispute Resolution.

Is Family Dispute Resolution the same as mediation?

Essentially, yes. Mediation is a structured conflict resolution process that uses a third party, usually called a mediator, who helps the disputing parties to reach a mutual agreement.

FDR is a special type of mediation designed to discuss and resolve Family Law issues following the breakdown of a relationship. A Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) facilitates the FDR process.

The benefits of Family Dispute Resolution 

During FDR, both parties will be given support and guidance required to make important decisions – that will impact their lives and long-term future – together. This improves the likelihood that the agreements will be followed, which will avoid further conflict and disruption for themselves and any children.

Other benefits of FDR include:

  • Saving money and time, as FDR is usually quicker and less costly than the court process
  • Promotion of cooperation and communication to enhance the ongoing parenting relationship
  • Providing parents with a structure and the skills to help resolve future disputes more readily
  • Maintaining the individuals’ control in the decision-making process, as there are no imposed decisions
  • Less stress or trauma than court proceedings.

What does a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner do? 

Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners (FDRPs) are highly skilled, qualified and accredited practitioners from a variety of professional backgrounds, such as law, psychology and social work. Practitioners have the skills and knowledge to help separating parties make decisions that result from their situation. FDRPs are trained in resolving disputes relating to families, children, finance or property matters.

FDRPs don’t give legal advice but will explore general principles that apply to couples who are separating. They may give advice in relation to children and parenting matters, focusing on the best interests of the child. They are impartial and fair to both parties; focused on the future, and on helping the parties resolve their dispute. The FDR process is confidential, within the limits of the law.

Can I access Family Dispute Resolution if my former partner and I don’t have children? 

Yes, you can access FDR even if you and the person you’re separating from don’t have any children – however in these circumstances, FDR is voluntary when no children are involved.

Your FDRP can work with you to help resolve any disputes involving financial and property arrangements.

What happens if Family Dispute Resolution is unsuccessful? 

If you can’t reach an agreement with your former partner, or the FDR process is unsuccessful for another reason, an FDRP can give you a Section 60I certificate. This certificate is provided to the Family Law court when an application for parenting orders is commenced.

If an agreement can’t be negotiated before a court case reaches the judge, then the court will make the final decision about your property, parenting and financial arrangements.

Section 60I certificates can only be issued by a FDRP, and may be done so for some of the following reasons:

  • Both parties attended FDR and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute, but an agreement couldn’t be reached
  • Both parties attended but one or both did not make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • The other party didn’t attend FDR
  • The FDR practitioner decided your case wasn’t appropriate for FDR.

If you’ve attended Property and Financial mediation, and an agreement can’t be reached on the final division of your property settlement, the FDRP will be able to give you information and referrals to help you decide what your next steps might be to achieve a resolution.

What is a Family Relationship Centre?  

A Family Relationship Centre (FRC) is essentially a centre that provides mediation and other services for separating families, including counselling. They provide valuable support for people who need help to manage their relationship breakdown. This includes challenges and disputes around post-separation parenting or property arrangements.

Relationships Australia NSW have five Family Relationship Centres throughout NSW, offering a range of support and services, including Family Dispute Resolution, counselling and group relationship education workshops, designed to support you through any challenges you are facing.

Relationships Australia NSW provides support across the state, both in person and online, and no referrals are required. Government subsidies help ensure our services remain affordable.

What does Family Dispute Resolution cost? 

Family Dispute Resolution is a much more affordable option than settling via the Family Court system. At Relationships Australia NSW, we pride ourselves on making our services accessible and have a sliding fee scale. All individual sessions attended prior to any joint sessions are free of charge. Fees can also be waived in cases of financial hardship. See below for our schedule of fees.

How do I find a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner?

Relationships Australia NSW provides a Family Dispute Resolution service at our six Family Relationship Centres across NSW, as well as remotely via our new Access Family Dispute Resolution service. We offer in-person, telephone and online services, depending on your location within NSW.

We offer FDR at the following six locations in NSW:

Blacktown
Level 2, 2 Warrick Lane,
Blacktown, NSW 2148
1300 364 277

Macquarie Park
Level 1/68 Waterloo Road,
Macquarie Park, NSW 2113
(02) 8874 8000

Northern Beaches
651 Pittwater Rd,
Dee Why, NSW 2099
 (02) 9981 9799

Bathurst
91 Seymour Street,
Bathurst, NSW 2795
1300 364 277

Penrith
Level 2/606 High Street
Penrith, NSW 2750
(02) 4728 4800

Sydney City Centre
Level 7/10 Barrack Street,
Sydney, NSW 2000
1300 364 277

We’re open and inclusive to people from all walks of life, and we recognise that people’s backgrounds, values, family circumstances and connections are diverse. We offer a flexible approach, and we’re able to work with carers, lawyers, support workers and interpreters when required.

Contact us over the phone or via email to make an appointment – no referrals are required. Initial sessions are usually one hour long, and we’ll work with you to plan a session at a time and location that suits your needs.

Relationship breakdowns are often emotional and difficult, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when beginning the separation process. To help you through, our Family Relationship Centres offer Family Dispute Resolution across NSW. Call your local centre via the numbers above, or Enquire now.

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