Family Dispute Resolution, also known as “FDR” is a form of mediation designed to assist separating couples with resolving their family law disputes.
FDR involves the participation of an impartial third party known as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (“FDRP”) who will facilitate discussion between the parties regarding the issues in dispute and consider different options for resolution.
In parenting matters, the FDRP will encourage that the parties to focus on the needs of their children.
FDRP’s are independent of the people involved in the dispute and are trained in working in a family law environment.
Why try Family Dispute Resolution?
1. It can be Cheaper
If a dispute can be resolved through FDR, it will be significantly less expensive than having to go to court.
The cost of FDR will depend on the provider. Private providers will set their own fees. Community-based FDR services have a standard fee policy that is based on the income levels of the parties and their capacity to pay.
You should let your FDR service provider know if you are on a low income or experiencing financial difficulties.
2. Less Stressful and Promotes Cooperation
In most cases, the FDR process is much less stressful than the Court process. Unlike the Court process, the FDR process aims to decrease conflict and preserve relationships.
3. Maintain Control
The FDR process allows the party to maintain some control over the decisions that are made.
4. It is Compulsory
It is compulsory under Australia Family Law for parents to attempt FDR before they can apply to the Court for Parenting Orders. There are some exceptions to this requirement which are:
a. When the parties are formalising their agreement by way of Consent Orders (meaning, both parties have agreed);
b. Where there are risks of family violence or child abuse;
c. Urgent issues;
d. One or both parties are unable to participate effectively due to geographical location or incapacity;
e. A person has contravened a Court Order made in the last 12 months; or
f. You are responding to an Application made by another party.
At the end of the FDR process, you will receive a Certificate (known as a Section 60I Certificate) which says:
a. Who attended;
b. Who made a genuine effort to resolve the disputes; or
c. The case was not appropriate for FDR.
5. It is Confidential
The discussions that take place during FDR or with your FDRP are confidential and cannot be used later as evidence in court.
It is an offence to disclose any confidential information from the FDR process to any other person or body, including a court. Penalties may apply.
Please note, this rule does not apply to FDRP Practitioners if they are:
a. Concerned a child has been abused or is at risk of abuse;
b. Believe one party is at risk of harm; or
c. Become aware of a fraudulent or criminal act by one of the parties.
When do I start?
The great thing about FDR, is that it can be used at any stage of your separation, even if you have started court proceedings. The Court also has the power to Order parties to participate in family dispute resolution at any time throughout the Court process.
As mentioned above, if you want Court Orders regarding parenting you will usually have to have tried FDR before you can apply to the Court.
With that in mind, it would be wise (if appropriate) to attempt FDR early in your separation if there are matters in dispute.
For Parenting matters, FDR can assist the parties in preparing a Parenting Plan which can later be formalised by Consent Orders. Similarly with property matters, FDR can assist the parties in reaching Heads of Agreement which can then be formalised by a Court Order (by consent) or a Financial Agreement.
How do I start Family Dispute Resolution?
To find a private FDRP, search the Family Dispute Resolution Register at https://www.fdrr.ag.gov.au/
FDR is also done by Relationships Australia in Greensborough (9431 7777).
Once one party has engaged an FDRP, the provider will usually contact the other party and invite them to attend the FDR session.
The FDRP will assess if FDR is suitable for your family situation. Some of the issues they will consider are:
1. Issues of family violence (it is still possible to attend at FDR if there is an Intervention Order in place – in most cases);
2. Issues of safety;
3. Any power imbalances;
4. Risks to children;
5. The emotional and psychological health of participants; and
6. Any other issues may make FDR unsuitable for that particular family.
The FDRP will also usually explain their role and the process of FDR so that each party has a clear understanding of the process and what is to be expected.
St John Heath of our office is a Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. If you would like to discuss your personal situation with one of our lawyers, please book an appointment, or call 9435 9044.