Family dispute resolution is a process that brings your child into the centre of your discussions to decide on parenting decisions and financial matters. Your discussions are helped along by a trained professional, who will help you to focus your conversations on what is important to you and negotiate an agreement.
What can family dispute resolution do?
FDR can help those going through separation by giving them a space to express their concerns freely, identify and discuss their options, and work towards reaching an agreement.
Those attending FDR will work out parenting solutions relating to the care of their child, called a parenting plan, where they agree on what future parenting arrangements will look like. Using the same process in Property Mediation, they can also sort out financial issues such as dividing the assets and debts of the relationship and financial support for children.
The Australian family law system requires parents to attend family dispute resolution to make a genuine attempt to resolve their dispute before going to the family law court where it is safe to do so.
Helping you navigate the difficult issues and focus on your child
Family dispute resolution practitioners (FDRPs) are skilled and trained professionals who assist in your discussions by helping to keep your discussions on track. They do not take sides or give legal advice – their aim is to help you both communicate effectively, focus on what is important to you both and negotiate workable agreements. Most importantly, the FDRP creates a safe environment to help you to focus your discussion on what is best for your child.
FDR is a confidential process, except if there is a risk to people or property. A FDR practitioner will help you develop a parenting plan which sets out your agreed parenting arrangement and help you both sort out your financial issues.
FDR process details
Pre-mediation assessment – You will each have separate sessions with the FDRP where they will listen to your side or the story and help clarify your concerns. Here they will provide you with information about the process, suggest appropriate referrals to support or legal services, and prepare you for FDR. They will also assess whether your specific situation is suitable for FDR.
Child in Focus – You will both attend a Child in Focus group prior to FDR. This program helps you to better understand what FDR is, how to benefit from the process, and to focus on your child’s needs
FDR joint session – It is here where you will both have the opportunity to participate in the FDR process to clarify and discuss your concerns with each other, supported by the FDRP, with the aim to reach a workable agreement. If you do not come to an agreement, you may request an s60i certificate to show you have attended FDR.
Post-mediation follow up – You will be contacted by your FDRP in 3 – 6 months’ to follow up on how you are going and for feedback on your experience.
A S60i certificate is a document that can be issued to you if you cannot come to an agreement about your children in FDR or if your FDRP decides that FDR is not suitable for you. If you are unable to come to an agreement, you may want to go to a court for a judge to make decisions for you (to make a parenting order) – this will require you to have an S60i certificate to show that you have attempted FDR.
Supporting you with other referrals
When seeking FDR, your FDRP may support you further by suggesting appropriate support and legal referrals that may be helpful, such as:
- Learning programs such as Parenting after separation
- Support services for children after separation.
- Pre-mediation coaching.
Your FDRP may decide that FDR is not appropriate where:
- you or your child(ren)’s safety is at risk
- you or the other person’s ability to make decisions is affected by something (for example, such as mental illness, substance or alcohol abuse)
- there is an investigation ongoing with allegations of child abuse
- an intervention order is in place preventing contact with each other and there is no exception clause for mediation
- urgent cases involving, for example, location (finding) and recovery (returning) of children orders, or where assets (things you own) may be sold, lost or destroyed.
If you feel that you are being coerced, feel that you are at risk, are experiencing pressure to make decisions you are uncomfortable with or are feeling unsafe, FDR may not be suitable for you and it is important that you seek support.
Where there has been family violence, it may not be appropriate to use FDR. Your FDRP will explore ways you can participate in the FDR process in a safe way. This can be through shuttle mediation, where you and the other person will be in separate rooms and the FDRP will communicate with you both separately by phone or video calls to ensure your safety.
You can request to have a support person with you and in some cases, you may be able to participate in legally-assisted FDR, where a lawyer will be a part of the process.
You must let your mediator know if you have any concerns about your physical or emotional safety, so they can take steps to assess the situation and ensure you are safe and feeling confident to participate in the FDR process, or if they can refer you to the appropriate support.
Family violence support
If you are experiencing family and domestic violence, you can get help and support. See Family violence – finding help and support or visit the Family Violence Law Help website, which provides information about domestic and family violence and the law in Australia.
If you are in immediate danger, call 000