Family Court Mediation

Family Court Mediation

Family Court Mediation

Find out more about family mediation and how it can help you finalise issues after a divorce or separation. We will look at what happens in a mediation session and how participating in a family dispute resolution conversation can help you avoid the stress and expense of having to go to court.

When marriage or relationships come to an end, several things need to be addressed. Complex issues such as care arrangements for your child, finance and property matters can be jointly discussed in a mediation session. Let’s take a closer look.

What Is Family Mediation?

When relationships break down, people may find themselves in conflict. They need support to communicate effectively and are encouraged to use a family mediation service. They will receive advice about how to resolve disputes with their former partner. Their disagreements may involve their children, future care and custody. Negotiating a path forward for separated families can be challenging, particularly when increased emotions and stress are present.

A neutral person can facilitate mediation to help improve communication, find solutions, and resolve child related disputes.

Disputes do not always occur only between the parents. Extended family members may also be involved.

Ideally, separated families can reach a mutual agreement concerning care for their children without the expense and stress of court proceedings. The family law system encourages parents to use a friend or family member to help with informal general mediation. Alternatively, it can also be more formal if using a professional mediator. In which case, accredited practitioners are available for individuals. This can be particularly beneficial when relations have substantially broken down, and communication is hindered by emotion or anger. Receiving impartial advice can be helpful to all people involved, as the discussion is controlled by the counsellor, who can apply logic and balance in a volatile environment.

Family Dispute Resolution

Family dispute resolution (FDR) is the legal term used for a particular type of mediation that helps families affected by separation or divorce to come to mutual agreements.

Family dispute resolution services can be provided by family relationship centres, legal aid agencies, community organisations, lawyers, social workers or psychologists. They do not give legal advice but provide effective counselling and help them reach an agreement, particularly concerning family matters and children.

A family dispute resolution practitioner is fair and impartial. They are highly skilled individuals trained to resolve disputes relating to children, finance and property matters.

In Australia, before applying for financial or parenting orders from the family law court, it is compulsory to attempt family dispute resolution.

Exemptions can be given in particular circumstances, including:

  • If family violence or child abuse is a factor
  • Response to a court application
  • Location or incapacity prohibits an individual from participating effectively
  • Contravention of a court order within the last 12 months
  • Agreement formalisation via a consent order
  • Urgent issues

FDR is inappropriate if child abuse allegations are under investigation and an intervention order prohibits contact with the other person.

If you only need to file for divorce, you are not required to go to family dispute resolution.

The family dispute resolution process is a way for individuals to make a genuine attempt to resolve personal differences and an opportunity to make a plan that contains agreed future parenting arrangements without going to court.

Starting Family Dispute Resolution

When an individual meets with a family dispute resolution practitioner, the other party will be invited to attend a meditation session. Attendance is generally compulsory unless it compromises the individual’s safety due to family violence, risks to children, or if it negatively impacts the psychological and emotional health of the participants.

The FDR professional will explain their role, qualifications, fees charged, explain the mediation process, potential outcome and ensure that both individuals understand what is expected. Their job is to help you discuss relevant issues and provide alternatives to reach an agreement.

What Happens In A Family Dispute Resolution Session?

After explaining their role, expectations and desired outcomes, the practitioner will:

  • Identify issues that need to be resolved
  • Encourage participants to listen to each other’s perspectives without interruption
  • Share relevant information
  • Discuss ideas and options
  • Discuss workable solutions
  • Formalise decisions and agreements in writing

After reaching an agreement, it is formalised in the format of a parenting plan. This document will state agreed terms for the children and the process to follow moving forward.

During the discussion, the role of the FDR practitioner will keep the conversation on topic and relevant to the children. They will provide support to help their clients reach acceptable solutions. Everything discussed in a mediation session remains private and confidential unless it is life-threatening or illegal. A FDR professional must report child abuse or anything that indicates a risk to the child.

There will be occasions where it is not suitable to have both people in the same room as the practitioner. In these situations, the practitioner may arrange to go back and forth between the meeting rooms to talk individually with each party. This is called “shuttle mediation”. This can help move issues along and improve the negotiation process without arguments or compromising individuals feelings of safety and comfort.

During the counselling session, individuals may opt to bring along a support person.

How Much Does Family Mediation Cost?

The cost of family dispute resolution will vary depending on what services are used. The prices are substantially less than obtaining legal advice from a lawyer. Some services are free; others may charge a discounted rate depending on your financial circumstances. Family relationship centres in Australia provide one hour of FDR free of charge. Concession cardholders and low-income earners are eligible for additional hours free of charge.

Contact the relevant service in advance to find out their fee structure.

What Happens After Dispute Resolution?

When an agreement has been reached, the parenting plan is put into writing. It will be dated and signed by both parents. The document can be renegotiated if needed, and options to make changes can be included in the plan as required.

Attending a family dispute resolution session is a preferable alternative for many families as it is a far cheaper alternative than proceeding with formal court orders.

To make your parenting plan legally binding, you will need to apply to the court to have your agreement made into a consent order.

Consent orders are legally binding, and if the orders are breached, the consequences may be severe.

If an agreement was not met during the FDR session, the practitioner could issue a certificate to allow an application to be made to a family law court to finalise matters. An accredited family dispute resolution practitioner is the only person who can issue the certificate.

You may need to obtain legal advice before proceeding. The next step is a parenting order, which is an order that the family law court makes about your parental responsibilities, and the court will decide what is in your child’s best interests.

The specialist may also issue the certificate in instances where family dispute resolution service is not appropriate. For example, the ability of the participants to effectively negotiate, a history of family violence, safety and wellbeing of parties and children, or other relevant issues.

The certificate will state one of the following:

  • Both attendees made a real effort at dispute resolution
  • One party did not make a genuine effort to resolve differences
  • An individual did not attend the mediation session
  • The FDR practitioner decided that FDR was not appropriate
  • During the FDR process, the practitioner decided it was not appropriate to continue

If you have not attended your family dispute resolution session, the court may order you to pay the other parties legal fees.

Why Use Family Dispute Resolution?

There are several benefits to using FDR when going through a separation or divorce.

  • Less expensive than going to court
  • Saves time
  • Avoid a stressful law court environment
  • More control, you make decisions that are suitable for your situation, rather than having a judge decide
  • Improves communication between participants
  • Increased flexibility to make adjustments to care arrangements for your child
  • Less likelihood to breach any agreement that you have created yourself
  • Resolving issues helps you move forward and improves your mental health

Summary

When marriage or relationships break down, complex issues such as child care arrangements, finance and property matters arise. You can jointly discuss these issues in a family dispute resolution mediation session.

Family dispute resolution services can be provided by family relationship centres, legal aid agencies, community organisations, lawyers, social workers or psychologists. The FDR process is a way for participants to make a genuine attempt to resolve personal differences and avoid going to court.

Under Australian family law, before a person can apply to a family law court for parenting orders, they must attempt FDR. It is important to attend, or the court may ask the individual to pay their former partner’s legal fees.

In the session, the family dispute resolution practitioner will help each person share ideas, discuss potential solutions, and help them reach an agreement. They formalise it as a parenting plan that is agreeable and suitable for their families needs.

A family dispute resolution service provider can not provide legal advice or impose a decision. To make your plan legally binding, you will need to apply to the court to have your agreement made into consent orders.

Finalising family matters quickly and efficiently is an important step for people to move forward after their dispute.

FAQs

1. What Happens At Family Mediation?

Answer: Family dispute resolution practitioners can identify the issues that need to be discussed and encourage families to openly discuss ideas and develop viable solutions, with a significant focus on ongoing care for their child. After reaching an agreement, it is formalised in the format of a parenting plan. This document will set out future care for the child and the process to follow moving forward. If an agreement was not met during the family dispute resolution session, the practitioner can issue a certificate that allows an application to be made to a family law court to finalise matters.

2. How Long Does Family Mediation Take?

Answer: Timeframes can vary significantly with the mediation process, depending on the number of issues and complexity. Some matters can be resolved within a few hours, and others may take considerably longer. Parents can reach agreements sooner when they focus on the best outcomes for the child. It is not uncommon for disagreements and bitter relations to prolong proceedings.

3. What Is A Mediator In Family Law?

Answer: A mediator acts as a third party to help resolve disputes that arise from a divorce or relationship breakdown. They offer impartial advice and look at the case from both sides to help individuals develop workable agreeable solutions. Whether it be for financial or property matters or care arrangements for your child, they do not provide legal advice but are highly skilled in dispute resolution and family matters. They can provide contact information for lawyers who specialise in family law.

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