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Family Dispute Resolution / Mediation

Justine Sturgiss
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21 July 2022

What is family dispute resolution aka mediation?

A lot of people have never heard of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) or mediation. With changes to the family law system from September 2021 marking the commencement of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA), there is a greater emphasis on resolving family law matters through dispute resolution.  The purpose of this is to resolve disputes as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.   

So, what exactly is Family Dispute Resolution/mediation and how does mediation work? In this series, we will cover this topic as well as questions such as “is it actually useful?”, “when do my children get a say” and “how do I prepare for mediation?”

Who can attend mediation?

Generally, the majority of people who attend FDR are separated parents who are wanting to resolve their co-parenting disputes. However, mediation can be for a variety of family law matters. You can discuss property settlement disputes (whether you have children or not), the role of grandparents (or other significant family members) where a family member has been impacted in their ability to spend time with a child either by separation or another issue. Some people also attend mediation when they are actually in full agreement , but they want to have something in writing or for the sake of being able to have time devoted solely to discuss these matters.

How to get to mediation?

Most people will be referred to mediation through their solicitor advising them to do so. This is the first step that is required in a family law dispute. There are some exceptions to this rule though, including risk of family violence and/or child abuse. We recommend you seek legal advice if you have any questions about these exceptions. You do not need a referral to attend mediation and there are a mixture of government funded and private mediation services within the Mackay region available to you.

What is the process?

The process with the government subsidised FDR providers is that the mediator (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners (FDRP’s)) will begin with an ‘Intake Session’. This session is only with you and the mediator, and it is designed to gather all the information relevant to the matter to allow the mediator to do the following:

  1. Assess whether the matter is suitable for mediation;
  2. Assess for appropriate referrals such as legal advice, counselling, post separation parenting programs etc
  3. Assess for risk to yourself, other party, property and children.

The next step (for some mediators) may be another session to prepare you for your mediation and have you think about how to focus on your children. However, depending on your situation (e.g. property) and the mediator, this may not be included.

The final step is then the mediation itself. Again, different mediators will have differences in:-

  1. how long they set out for the mediation;
  2. where it is;
  3. who is in the room; and
  4. how it will be run.

To prepare for mediation you should be thinking about trying to resolve the issues in dispute. It can be very easy to get stuck in the blame game or thinking that everything is on the other party to resolve, not you. Mediation will not be effective if you think this way. Even if you can resolve a small issue, don’t let the other issues in dispute outweigh this. It’s always better to have at least some agreements than none as it shows the court (if you end up there) that you are willing to negotiate and resolve some issues.

What is the mediator’s role and what happens at the end of mediation?

The mediator’s role is to help guide the conversation between yourself and the other party/ies (yes there can be multi-party mediations!  Think co-parents and grandparents, ex partners and new partners etc).  The benefit of mediation is that any decisions made are made by you and the other party.

If you reach an agreement in a parenting matter this will be noted in a Parenting Plan.  A Parenting Plan is not legally binding (but is relevant if you need to go to the court in the future) and we strongly recommend seeking legal advice if you wish to turn it into a legally binding court order. If you cannot reach full or any agreements you will most likely be referred back to your solicitor to obtain legal advice.

Mediation can be a very useful tool to help resolve a wide variety of family law disputes. If you need any assistance with how to prepare for mediation, or advice surrounding any family law matters that may require mediation, we strongly recommend you seek legal advice.  We encourage you to contact our office to make an appointment with one of our solicitors to obtain advice on your situation on 07 4963 2000 or through our online contact form below.