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What is family dispute resolution?

Family dispute resolution is a process that is designed to help people to sort out their family disputes, particularly if they are affected or likely to be affected by separation or divorce. Broadly defined, it means any non-judicial process used to help people to resolve disputes under the Family Law Act 1975. It could be counselling, mediation, conciliation or arbitration. Mediation is the most common type of family dispute resolution.

Family dispute resolution usually involves a registered family dispute resolution practitioner and the couple who are separating, however it may also take place between the practitioner and other people who have been affected by the separation, such as a grandparent. Lawyers may also be involved in the process.

Role of the Family dispute resolution practitioner

The role of the family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP) is to listen to each person and help them to reach an agreement without having to go to court. The family dispute resolution practitioner is independent of both parties in dispute. The practitioner must be accredited under the accreditation rules. They may act in a private capacity or may be employed by a dispute resolution organisation or even by the courts.

The FDRP facilitates the process and provides procedural assistance to manage the dispute resolution. They do not have an advisory role and they do not determine what the outcome will be. They can help to isolate the issues that are in dispute and develop options for resolving the matters but the FDRP does not impose a solution on the parties. They do not give legal advice.

Family dispute resolution before court

In most cases, people who have a dispute about children will have to try to resolve their dispute using family dispute resolution before they can file an application in court. The applicant will need to file a certificate, signed by a registered family dispute resolution practitioner, to show that they have tried dispute resolution.

Exceptions

A certificate may not be required in the case of family violence, where allegations of child abuse or where the matter is urgent.

See When mediation may not be appropriate.

Why go to family dispute resolution?

Dispute resolution is quicker and cheaper than going to court. Parties are also able to make their own decisions about how to parent their children. It can also be used to work out how property can be divided, or about child or partner maintenance.

If one of the parties refuses to co-operate when they attend a session at a family dispute resolution centre, the court can take this into account when they are making a decision in court.

All parties are required to make a genuine effort to sort out their differences. Court is meant to be a last resort for issues concerning children.

A court may order the parties to attend

Dispute resolution can also be ordered by a court at any stage of the proceedings if the court believes that it will help.

See s. 60I(10)—Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

More information

Legislation

Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

  • Part ll—Non-court-based family services
  • Part ll Division 3—Family dispute resolution
  • s. 10F—defines family dispute resolution
  • s. 60I—attending family dispute resolution before applying for an order about children
  • s. 60I(10)—court must consider making an order that a person attend family dispute resolution unless an exception applies to their situation

See Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Cth)

  • r. 4.01—compliance with pre-action procedure (when compliance with pre-action procedures is not necessary)
  • Schedule 1—pre-action procedures, part 2 parenting cases

See Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Cth)(opens in a new window)

Family Relationships Online

Family Relationships online lists the family relationship centres in Australia.

See Family Relationships Online(opens in a new window).

Updated