Information about family dispute resolution 

What is family dispute resolution?
Dispute resolution refers to services designed to help you resolve disputes arising from separation or divorce and improve your relationship with your ex-partner (or other party's in your dispute). There are four types of family dispute resolution: family counseling, post-separation parenting programs, conciliation as well as family dispute resolution.   The Federal Circuit Court of Australia describes the benefits of dispute resolution in the following terms:  "Dispute resolution provides you with an opportunity to improve your relationship with the other party and reach an agreement between yourselves without the need for a court order. This allows you to make your own decision and regain control of the outcome. Because all parties are involved in reaching a resolution, it improves the chances that the agreement will last into the future. You may also learn more effective ways to communicate with the other party which may assist you to resolve future disputes."  
When can family dispute resolution occur?
While mediation may be more difficult once ex-partners have started litigation, mediation can occur at any stage of the journey. Some couples mediate in the very early stages of separation, even when they are separated under the same roof. Others might start the process with lawyers and then turn to mediation. Others may turn to mediation years after separation in order to change existing parenting arrangements or to solve specific parenting problems that have arisen.
Family dispute resolution practitioners are neutral
As a mediator, I am impartial and do not take sides. If I have any mandate or agenda, it is to reduce conflict so that you can focus on a positive future for you and your children.
Confidentiality and inadmissibility
Family dispute resolution is confidential although there are some limited exceptions, so as to prevent the commission of a crime or to prevent a serious threat to someone’s health or life.   What is said in family dispute resolution is inadmissible and cannot be used in court in most circumstances.  Family dispute resolution practitioners are mandatory reporters which means child abuse or anything that indicates that a child is at risk of abuse must be reported and may be used as evidence in some instances.
Types of agreements in parenting matters
Mediation is flexible as agreements may address part or all of the issues in dispute. Examples of the content of agreements include the day-to-day responsibilities of each parent, practical aspects of a child's daily routine, visits with extended relatives as well as the method parents will use to consult on significant long-term issues such as which school a child will attend. Agreements may be made on an interim or long-term basis. Importantly, the agreement can include details of how the agreement may be amended in the future or how to deal with any future disagreements. Review mechanisms can also be included.  If you reach an agreement with respect to parenting arrangements, one option is for the arrangement to be written up as a parenting plan. A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement and is different from a parenting order made by a court. However, as it is has been negotiated and agreed upon by you and the other parent, it is more likely to be followed. While the plan is not legally binding, it also has some significance if your dispute proceeds to court. If there is a dispute in the future, the court would be required to consider the terms of the most recent parenting plan when making a parenting order, if it is in the child’s best interests to do so. For a parenting plan to be recognised by the court, it must be in writing as well as signed and dated by the parents.  If you and the other parent want to make the parenting plan legally binding, you can apply to the court to have the agreement made into a consent order. Once made, consent orders have the same effect as any other order made by the court. If you wish to apply for consent orders, Liz can provide you with further information.
What happens if an agreement is reached in a property matter?
To make an agreement legally binding, you can apply to the court for a consent order. Liz can provide you with further information, if you wish to apply for consent orders.
What does a “child’s best interests” mean?
As a family dispute resolution practitioner, the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration. The Family Law Act (“the Act”) states that the best interests of a child are met by:  1. the child having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents; and 2. the child being protected from physical or psychological harm, from being subjected to, or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence.   However, if these two needs are in conflict, protecting a child from harm must take priority.
Compulsory family dispute resolution
The 2006 reforms to the Family Law Act extended the use of family dispute resolution. Family dispute resolution is now compulsory if you intend to file an application for parenting orders. There are exceptions to the requirement to attend family dispute resolution, such as cases that are urgent, involve child abuse, family violence or a risk of child abuse or family violence.  The family dispute resolution session, though, is voluntary. This means that you cannot be forced to reach an agreement and you can choose to conclude the session.
Section 60I certificates
If you are not able to resolve your dispute through family dispute resolution and decide to file a parenting application with the court, you will need a certificate from an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner in most circumstances. The certificate is issued under section 60I of the Family Law Act and is referred to as a 60I certificate. The certificate is valid for 12 months from the date of your last attendance or last attempt at family dispute resolution.   There are five types of 60I certificates. In summary, the certificate will include one of the following statements:  1. That the other parent did not attend family dispute resolution; or 2. That your dispute was not appropriate for family dispute resolution; or 3. That you and the other parent attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute; or 4. That you and the other parent attended but one or both attendees failed to make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute; or 5. That you and the other parent commenced family dispute resolution but it was not appropriate to continue with the process.
Consequences of not attending family dispute resolution
If family dispute resolution is required and you do not attend or make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute, there are possible financial consequences as the court may order you to pay some or all of the other parent’s legal costs. In addition, if you do not attend or make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute, the progress of your court matter may be delayed if a judge orders you to attend family dispute resolution.
Legal advice
Family dispute resolution practitioners are prohibited from giving legal advice. If a mediator gives legal advice, the process is no longer neutral. However, Liz recommends that client’s obtain legal advice during the process and this will be discussed in your initial consultation.
Personal safety
It is vital that you feel safe, and are safe before, during and after family dispute resolution.   You should tell Liz if you have any concerns about safety including your own safety or that of your children. You should also tell Liz about any family violence orders. This may mean that family dispute resolution does not proceed. Shuttle mediation is possible, in some situations, and this option can be discussed.