What is family dispute resolution?
Family dispute resolution (FDR) is a process that spouses, parents or other parties can use to settle their disputes without going to court. It’s often quicker, less stressful and much less expensive to use dispute resolution processes. And the outcomes are frequently much closer to the wishes of both parties.
Who can participate in family dispute resolution?
If you or your spouse is applying for a divorce, you must use FDR if your marriage is short-term.
If you have children, and regardless of whether you’re married or were de facto partners, you must also undertake FDR if you’re seeking parenting orders or property settlement orders.
In short, a court will require you to make a proper attempt to settle your differences before proceeding further in the court process. Even if you think you’ll never reach an agreement, a court usually requires you to undergo FDR as part of a pre-trial process. There may be some rare exceptions to this requirement, for example in cases of family violence, child abuse or neglect, or for urgent applications.
Resolving family disputes: how does it work?
The Australian government provides dispute resolution services, accessed through the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia.
You may also wish to access private dispute resolution. Independent, specially qualified and trained family dispute resolution lawyers (or practitioners) usually conduct these sessions. Typically, private dispute resolution will cost more than the public services, but you can access them more quickly.
You can attend FDR by yourself. You’re also allowed to get legal advice about the process before agreeing to anything. We always recommend this, because you need to understand everything that’s proposed, and all your options, before deciding on anything. For example:
- Any adverse effects of the proposal may not arise until well into the future.
- There may be other areas of the law that affect the proposal.
Our family law experts will guide you to help find the best solution.
The point of FDR is to talk through your differences. The family dispute resolution practitioner acts as a guide. They don’t offer legal advice, make judgments or binding decisions. They’re not on either side. Their role is to facilitate a discussion and to help you reach an agreement.
When you attend a session, you may be in the same room with your spouse or former partner for part of the discussion (but only if you consent to this). The FDR practitioner may then ask you to go off to separate rooms. They may talk to each of you without the other one present. It’s an opportunity for the FDR practitioner to get to the core of the issues and to work out whether there’s any middle ground.
You’re allowed to have a support person present at an FDR session. It’s often a good idea, as dealing with these issues can be emotionally challenging
Other forms of counselling
Other forms of counselling include:
- Personal counselling to help you cope with the pressure of the situation
- Counselling for your children to help them cope
- Financial counselling from a financial planner or accountant who specialises in property separation
- If there’s a chance of reconciliation, you and your spouse or partner may wish to attend marriage or couples counselling together
Reaching an agreement
If you and your spouse have been able to agree how to resolve your issues, you’ll need legal advice from us before signing any document or making an agreement.
For parenting arrangements and short-term marriages, you may need to file a parenting plan with the court. Or the FDR lawyer may need to provide a certificate to say that you’ve gone through the dispute resolution process.
The court will then decide how to proceed with the matter