What is Family
Dispute Resolution?

Family Dispute Resolution helps separating couples in conflict discuss and agree on arrangements and resolve disputes, without going to court.


Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is the legal term for services (such as mediation) that help people affected by separation or divorce to sort out family disputes. FDR can help with a range of issues relating to property, money, and most importantly – their children.

With the support and mediation from an accredited Family Dispute Resolution practitioner, individuals discuss what’s important for them, and consider different options that get them closer to resolving their dispute. FDR practitioners are impartial to both parties and purely aim to mediate the dispute.

Where there are children involved, FDR can help families going through separation or divorce to come to their own agreements about future parenting arrangements, while focusing on the needs of their children. It also aims to improve relationships between the parties by encouraging them to speak openly and honestly, so they can reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

The service is funded by the Australian Government.

The word ‘mediation’ is sometimes used interchangeably with Family Dispute Resolution. The above video explains more about mediation / FDR. 

Who would need to use Family Dispute Resolution?

For families that are going through separation or divorce, FDR is used to help resolve problems that arise around parenting matters relevant to caring for their children.

The parties involved in the disagreement need to be involved in the process. If appropriate, other family members or a support person can also attend, including a lawyer (although this should be discussed with the practitioner prior to commencing).

Children do not attend, but depending on circumstances and factors including the age and maturity of the child, a family counsellor or child psychologist may talk with them. This will only happen with parental consent.

It is compulsory for all families with children going through separation or divorce to use Family Dispute Resolution before they progress to the court system*. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, 97% of separated parents do not need to go to court to decide their parenting arrangements. Instead, they are able to resolve their disputes themselves or through Family Dispute Resolution.

The requirement to participate in FDR/mediation applies to new applications, and applications seeking changes to an existing Parenting Order.

How does the Family Dispute Resolution process work?

The FDR process generally involves:

  • Identifying the issues which need to be resolved
  • Both parties listening to each other’s point of view without interruption
  • Each person sharing relevant information about their current situation, and plans moving forward
  • Exploring ideas and options
  • Testing possible solutions for a period of time, before returning to discuss whether the solution is appropriate
  • Putting any decisions and agreements in writing.

What are the benefits of Family Dispute Resolution?

One of the key benefits of FDR is that it can help you resolve your family’s problems outside of court. It allows you to work with your former partner and reach an agreement together, without the need for litigation.

This has a number of benefits, including prioritising the individuals’ influence on the decision-making process, which can result in a much more amicable ongoing parenting relationship. It can also give the parties more control over their decisions, rather than a court making a ruling for them.

Finally, FDR is generally a more relaxed form of mediation and lessens the stress and trauma that can be associated with court proceedings. FDR is less costly and faster than the court process, too.

What information will an FDR practitioner provide?

Before commencement, the practitioner will explain the process, their qualifications, the rights of those involved, and the fees charged. If the disagreement involves children, the mediator will provide information about parenting plans and other services to help.

Are things said at FDR confidential and can they be used in court?

Everything disclosed in mediation is confidential and cannot be used as evidence in court – except in certain circumstances, such as to prevent a serious threat to someone’s life or health or the commission of a crime. A practitioner must report child abuse, however, or anything said that indicates a child is at risk of abuse, and this may be used as evidence.

What happens to any agreement reached?

If an agreement on arrangements is reached regarding children, this can be recorded as a parenting plan. A parenting plan must be in writing, dated and signed by both parents and can include means to change arrangements and resolve disagreements. Parenting plans can be renegotiated over time, if necessary.

Any changes to the care arrangements for your children can affect child support, income support, and family assistance payments. Special rules apply about including child support in the parenting plan. For example, if the parenting plan specifies amounts for child support, Child Support cannot enforce it unless it is also a valid child support agreement, and you or the other parent ask Child Support to accept it.

If parties want to make the final parenting plan agreement about property/financial arrangements legally binding, they can apply to the court to have the agreement made into a Consent Order.

What if mediation/FDR doesn’t work?

If parties can’t reach an agreement or still need to go to court for a Parenting Order, they will need a certificate from an accredited practitioner.

The certificate will say one of the following:

  • the parties attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • the parties attended but one or both did not make a genuine effort
  • the other party did not attend
  • the FDR practitioner decided the case was not appropriate for FDR, or
  • the FDR practitioner decided it was not appropriate to continue part way through the FDR process.

It’s worth noting that if a party doesn’t attend mediation or make a genuine effort to attend, this can influence the timing of the court hearing in court. The court may also order that party to pay the others legal costs.

Why become a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner?

Becoming a FDR practitioner is an extremely rewarding and worthwhile career path. As a practitioner, you’ll develop skills in managing conflict, making decisions and supporting children of separated families. Your specialist expertise will include asset and debt identification, property settlements, parenting agreements, and child wellbeing.

There’s also the huge satisfaction that you’ll gain from making a difference in the lives of separated families. Your work will enable and empower families to come to a mutual agreement that benefits all parties and creates a positive future for all those involved.

If you’re interested in our FDR/mediation services, you can find more information here. If you’re interested in becoming a Family Dispute Resolution practitioner and helping change lives for the better, our CHC8115 Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution may be ideal for you. Find out more and enrol online today.

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