Understanding Family Dispute Resolution in New South Wales

Understanding Family Dispute Resolution in New South Wales

Understanding Family Dispute Resolution in New South Wales

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a process designed to assist families in resolving conflicts and disputes collaboratively and constructively. It involves the intervention of a neutral third party, the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP), who facilitates communication and negotiation between family members to reach mutually acceptable agreements.

FDR is crucial in family law matters, offering a cost-effective alternative to litigation. Its focus on the well-being of children makes it particularly significant, promoting active parental involvement and minimising emotional strain. 

FDR encourages amicable co-parenting arrangements, ensuring confidential discussions to address sensitive issues. Ultimately, FDR is pivotal in fostering positive communication, reducing conflict, and achieving sustainable resolutions in family law matters.

What is Family Dispute Resolution?

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) serves as a specialised form of mediation tailored to assist separating families in reaching their agreements. Facilitated by a neutral and accredited Family Dispute Resolution practitioner, the process encourages families to discuss disputes, consider various options, and prioritise the needs of their children. 

The primary objective of FDR is to aid participants in crafting a parenting plan that outlines agreed-upon future parenting arrangements, offering a practical and cost-effective alternative for families navigating separation. 

This method of dispute resolution, encompassing negotiation, counselling, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration, provides a court-free avenue for resolving family law issues. 

Available at any stage in a relationship, FDR can be informal, involving family or community members, or formal, guided by accredited practitioners trained to facilitate agreements. While family dispute resolution is generally confidential, verifying this aspect in individual cases is advisable.

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) stands out from other forms of dispute resolution in several ways. Unlike traditional litigation, FDR is a voluntary and collaborative process, emphasising open communication and cooperation rather than adversarial proceedings. 

It specifically caters to family matters, particularly those involving children, and employs neutral Family Dispute Resolution practitioners to guide the discussions. FDR encourages parties to actively participate in crafting their solutions, fostering a sense of ownership over the outcomes. 

In contrast to arbitration, FDR does not involve a third party making decisions for the parties; instead, it empowers families to reach mutually agreeable resolutions. The focus on the well-being of children and the creation of parenting plans are unique aspects of FDR. 

Moreover, family dispute resolution is generally more informal, providing a flexible and accessible avenue for families to resolve conflicts without the formality and rigidity of court proceedings.

The Legal Framework Surrounding FDR in NSW

– Overview of relevant NSW laws and regulations

– Mandatory FDR for certain family law disputes

The FDR Process in Detail

The Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) process unfolds through a systematic series of steps. It commences with an initiation where parties express their willingness to participate, followed by an assessment of suitability conducted by the FDR practitioner, taking into account safety and power dynamics. 

Participants are then prepared with information about the process, their rights, and the FDR practitioner’s role. Initial individual sessions allow the practitioner to grasp each party’s perspective, leading to joint sessions focused on open communication, exploring options, and developing agreements, notably a parenting plan. 

If agreements are reached, details are documented and, if necessary, formalised with court approval. The process concludes with a thorough review of agreements, clarification of the following steps, and formal notification to the court. 

In this collaborative journey, participants, including parents and children, if applicable, actively engage in discussions. At the same time, the neutral FDR practitioner facilitates communication, ensures a safe environment, and empowers parties to shape their agreements, prioritising the well-being of the children. 

Understanding these roles and steps paves a smooth and constructive FDR process.

Types of Disputes Handled in FDR

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is an effective avenue for resolving a range of issues in family law without resorting to court proceedings. 

Everyday matters addressed through FDR include child custody arrangements, parenting plans, property division, spousal support, and financial issues. By engaging in FDR, parties benefit from a collaborative and tailored approach that prioritises open communication and mutual agreement. 

This expedites the resolution process and minimises court battles’ financial and emotional costs. Resolving disputes outside of court fosters amicable co-parenting arrangements, preserves relationships, and allows for more creative and personalised solutions.

Additionally, the confidential nature of FDR provides a private space for families to address sensitive issues without public scrutiny, contributing to a more respectful and cooperative post-separation dynamic.

Choosing an FDR Practitioner in NSW

A family dispute resolution practitioner is an impartial professional who aids individuals navigating separation or divorce in resolving parenting and property disputes. To be recognized as a family dispute resolution practitioner, one must adhere to the accreditation criteria outlined in the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners) Regulations 2008, unless authorized by the court. Meeting these criteria involves being assessed for competence in units that encompass the screening and assessment of families for family violence and child abuse. 

The criteria for accreditation include:

  • Having appropriate qualifications and competencies, such as a relevant tertiary qualification in psychology, social work, law, conflict management, dispute resolution, family law mediation or equivalent, and being an accredited mediator under the National Mediator Accreditation System (NMAS);
  • Possessing an accessible complaints mechanism available for use by your clients;
  • Possessing a national police check, not exceeding four months old, with no disclosed offences related to violence against a person;
  • Not subject to any legal prohibition under state or territory laws regarding working with children;
  • Complying with the ‘working with children’ prerequisites in the relevant state or territory where you plan to offer services, if applicable;
  • Being deemed appropriate to fulfil the responsibilities and duties of an FDR practitioner;
  • Being covered by professional indemnity insurance.

Depending on your needs and preferences, there are different ways to find a suitable family dispute resolution service in NSW. 

Some of the options are:

  • Seeking a family dispute resolution practitioner who has given consent to be listed on the Family Dispute Resolution Register, administered by the attorney general’s Department;
  • Contacting one of the approved dispute resolution organisations (ADROs) that provide FDR services and training in NSW, such as Relationships Australia NSW, Uniting, and Interrelate;
  • Visiting the Family Relationship Centre online website, which provides information and referrals to FDR services and other family support services across Australia;
  • Contacting the Legal Aid NSW Family Dispute Resolution Service, which offers FDR services for eligible clients who have a legal aid grant or are applying for one.

Preparing for Family Dispute Resolution

Tips for Effective Participation in FDR Sessions:

  1. Preparation: Familiarize yourself with the issues and consider potential solutions beforehand.
  2. Open Communication: Clearly express your concerns, needs, and priorities to ensure a comprehensive discussion.
  3. Active Listening: Listen attentively to the other party’s perspective, fostering understanding and constructive dialogue.
  4. Focus on Interests: Identify underlying interests rather than sticking rigidly to positions, promoting creative solutions.
  5. Stay Calm and Respectful: Emotions can run high, but maintaining a calm and respectful demeanour enhances productive discussions.

Setting realistic Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) goals is pivotal for successful outcomes. It involves acknowledging the limitations of the situation and being open to compromise. 

Realism fosters a more pragmatic approach, ensuring that expectations align with the potential for resolution. Being open to compromise is equally crucial, as it allows parties to find a middle ground and reach agreements that cater to the needs of all involved. 

This collaborative mindset expedites the resolution process and contributes to a more positive and sustainable outcome, promoting effective co-parenting and preserving relationships in family matters.

The Role of Legal Representation in FDR

Lawyers play a crucial role in the Family Dispute Resolution services, adapting their involvement to the specific needs and preferences of the parties at different stages. While FDR encourages direct communication between the parties, legal advisors can provide valuable support and guidance.

Lawyers may be involved before FDR sessions to offer advice on legal rights and obligations, ensuring that participants are well informed. During FDR, lawyers can assist in preparing for sessions, helping clients articulate their concerns and understand potential outcomes. 

The collaborative role of legal advisors in FDR is to facilitate constructive communication, provide legal insights, and assist in crafting workable solutions. While lawyers don’t actively participate in FDR sessions, their involvement adds support, ensuring that legal considerations are addressed, and agreements align with legal frameworks. 

This collaborative approach promotes a more comprehensive and informed resolution process.

Outcomes of Family Dispute Resolution

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) can yield various outcomes and agreements tailored to the parties’ unique circumstances. Possible resolutions include comprehensive parenting plans, agreements on child custody arrangements, property division, spousal support, and financial matters. 

These outcomes are crafted collaboratively, with parties actively participating in decision-making. While FDR agreements are generally not legally binding, they can be formalised and legally enforceable through court approval. 

The legal status of FDR agreements varies, and in many jurisdictions, court endorsement is necessary to ensure enforceability. 

This dual approach, where agreements are initially reached through FDR and subsequently formalised legally, combines the flexibility and collaboration of alternative dispute resolution with the legal enforceability required for lasting resolution in family law matters.

When FDR May Not Be Appropriate

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) may not be suitable in specific circumstances, mainly when there are concerns about family violence, power imbalances, or safety issues. In cases where the safety of participants is at risk, FDR may not provide a secure environment for open communication and negotiation. 

Alternative dispute resolution options in such scenarios include:

  • Seeking legal advice.
  • Obtaining court orders for protection.
  • Exploring other dispute resolution methods like arbitration or litigation.

In situations involving family violence, prioritising the safety and well-being of the parties involved takes precedence, and FDR may not be the appropriate avenue for resolution. 

Evaluating the particular circumstances is essential, and when needed, seeking guidance from legal professionals is crucial to determine the most appropriate and secure approach for resolving disputes.


Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is pivotal in family law matters, emphasising a constructive and collaborative process. It places a paramount focus on the well-being of children, encourages open communication, and empowers parties to shape their solutions actively.

As a cost-effective alternative to court proceedings, FDR fosters amicable co-parenting arrangements and preserves familial relationships. Its significance extends to addressing various issues, including child custody, parenting plans, property division, spousal support, and financial matters. 

Encouraging the use of FDR for amicable and constructive resolutions is crucial. By promoting this approach, individuals benefit from a private and confidential space, fostering collaboration beyond adversarial methods. 

Actively embracing FDR ensures a more tailored, flexible, and cooperative process, minimising the emotional and financial toll of lengthy court battles. This proactive stance empowers families to actively participate in shaping their agreements, contributing to positive and sustainable outcomes in resolving family law disputes.

Simon Fletcher is the Principal Solicitor at FletchLaw. He has been admitted as a solicitor to the High Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of New South Wales. His academic qualifications include of a Bachelor of Laws, a Graduate Certificate in Professional Legal Practice and a Master of Applied Laws (Mediation and Family Law Dispute Resolution). He can offer assistance in a wide variety of legal areas.

Simon is a registered provider of Dispute Resolution Services with the Attorney-General’s Department

Do you have a problem with Family Law or any other legal issue? Call us on 02 9159 9026 to find out how we can help.

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