What Is Family Dispute Resolution?

By Relationships Australia

Changes to the family due to a relationship breakdown or separation can be confusing, stressful and emotionally fraught. Family Dispute Resolution, also known as family mediation, is a practical way for separating families to try to resolve disagreements and make arrangements for the future. We explain what you need to know about Family Dispute Resolution.

The family law system in Australia encourages  people develop cooperative parenting solutions 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 an agreement 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.

What is Family Dispute Resolution? 

FDR is a way of jointly working through decisions in relation to children, finances and property, after a relationship has ended. This process can take place at any time, sometimes even years after a relationship has ended. Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners (FDRPs) facilitate conversations around matters that can be sensitive and emotional, helping people develop their own agreements.

The FDR process works towards reaching agreements on matters relating to children such as living arrangements, effective communication, decision making, child support, education, healthcare, holiday arrangements and more. 

FDRPs provide clients with support to 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.

The benefits of Family Dispute Resolution 

During FDR, participants are given the 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

Is Family Dispute Resolution the same as mediation?

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

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

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 do not 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 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 are unable to reach an agreement, or the FDR process is unsuccessful for another reason, an FDRP can issue 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

What is a Family Relationship Centre?  

Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) 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 offer a range of support and services, including parenting and property dispute resolution, counselling and group relationship education workshops are 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.

How do I find a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner? 

Relationships Australia NSW provides a Family Dispute Resolution service at our Family Relationship Centres, as well as remotely via our new Access Family Dispute Resolution service. This includes challenges and disputes around post-separation parenting and property arrangements. We provide in-person, telephone and online services, depending on your location within NSW.

We offer Family Dispute Resolution (also known as family mediation) on parenting and property matters to people across NSW from all walks of life. We recognise that people’s backgrounds, values, family circumstances and connections are diverse. We offer a flexible approach which includes in-person, telephone and online options, and we are 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.

What does Family Dispute Resolution cost? 

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.

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 Relationships Centres offer Family Dispute Resolution across NSW. Enquire now.

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