Family dispute resolution—which process is right for you?

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Note: The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia brings together the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and commenced on 1 September 2021. The new Court aims to allow Australian families the opportunity to resolve their disputes faster through simplified procedures and is now a single point of entry for all family law matters.


Life after separation - putting the pieces back together

Chapter 5 - Family dispute resolution - which process is right for you?

>> PRESENTER: If you’re separating and you want to make arrangements for your children, in most cases you’ll need to attempt family dispute resolution before you head to court.

In fact, you might not need to go to court at all. Dispute resolution is designed to help you and your partner sort through your issues and reduce the time, money and stress experienced during separation.
You may not need to attempt family dispute resolution if a parent is applying for consent orders, if a parent is responding to an application, if the matter is urgent, if there has been or there is a risk of family violence or child abuse, where one person cannot participate effectively, or where one parent has breached a court order made in the past 12 months.

Legal Aid Queensland, Family Relationship Centres and many other services including Centacare, Relationships Australia, Lifeline and private practitioners offer family dispute resolution services that can be tailored to your circumstances.
We are going to look at the family dispute resolution services offered by Legal Aid Queensland and the Family Relationship Centres.

Lets drop in on our two couples to see what their situations are:

Brendan and Kylie have two children, Rebecca, aged 11 and Anthony, aged 13.

[Conference with Family Relationship Centre Practitioner, GREG, and couple, BRENDAN and KYLIE]

>> BRENDAN: Ok, well, we’ve been married for now for almost 20 years and after years of arguing, we’ve finally realised that our lives are moving in different directions and that staying together really isn’t the answer. Course, the kids are upset that we’ve been separated and I don’t know what to say to them or how to let them know that things are gonna be OK.

>> KYLIE: Well, It hasn’t been easy but while we want different things for ourselves, what we want for the children hasn’t changed. So, rather than continuing to argue about it, I just, I just want to get on with it and do what is best for them. You know, I’m so worried about the children and I don’t know what to do to try and help them.

>> BRENDAN: Look, we both want what’s fair. Right? So, if we can get some help, then maybe we can work this out without having to take it to court.

[End of Conference]

>> PRESENTER: John and Jenny’s situation however is a little more complex. They have two young children – Chloe and Jack.

[Conference with Legal Aid Representative, NATASHA, and couple JENNY and JOHN. JENNY and JOHN in two separate rooms, using shuttle communication technique.]

>> JENNY: John is just too hard to live with but I am scared that when he leaves I won’t have the money to look after the kids by myself. My kids are with me all the time, I’m a full-time mum and Chloe and Jack need me.

>> JOHN: I can’t put up with Jenny anymore but I don’t want to be one of those dads who just only sees the kids every two weeks.

But, I’m … I’m their father. I get the right to see them grow up just as much as she does. But also, I don’t want to spend all my money on child support that I can’t afford a life of my own.

It is important for us to sort that out, like, about the kids. The selling of the car, the house and I just need to know it’s in good hands, get it sorted.

>> JENNY: I don’t know what to do. 

Every time we try to talk about it, he just starts yelling at me.  I have trouble talking to John about what should happen because the fighting can be frightening and I am worried that I’ll just agree to whatever arrangements John wants because I don’t want us to fight. 

I just want to be able to take care of my kids and keep them in the home they know. 

>> JOHN: Jenny’s just so unreasonable. 

All she wants to discuss is basically about keeping the kids, selling the house, selling the car and basically keeping all my money.

[End of Conference]

[Interview: PRESENTER, Legal Aid Representative, NATASHA RAE, and Family Relationship Centre Representative, GREG SHANLEY.]

>> PRESENTER: I’m here with Natasha Rae from Legal Aid Queensland and Greg Shanley from the Family Relationship Centre, Upper Mount Gravatt.

So, Natasha, What does Legal Aid Queensland’s Dispute Resolution Service include?

>> NATASHA: Well, you will have a lawyer to help take you through the family dispute resolution conference process, which can be useful if your situation is complicated.

There will also be a specially trained practitioner who will help you both talk to each other through the process and assist you to reach agreements about arrangements for your children or for your property.

If agreement is reached, you can get legal help to develop consent orders that can be submitted to the Family Court.

>> PRESENTER: And Greg, what about family dispute resolution through Family Relationship Centres?

>> GREG: Well, dispute resolution in a Family Relationship Centre allows you to have three hours of family dispute resolution with one or two specially trained practitioners.

They’ll help you to focus on the needs of your children and to make agreements that are in their best interests.  You can also have a lawyer present if you choose. 

If agreement is reached you could sign a parenting plan or take further steps to have your agreements drafted into consent orders.

Family Relationship centres work in partnership with Community legal Centres, and in some cases there are representatives from these centres on site at a Family Relationship Centre to provide legal advice.

>> PRESENTER: Natasha, what are some of the advantages of dispute resolution?

>> NATASHA: Well, when you successfully go through family dispute resolution the agreement takes into account your individual circumstances.

It allows you to make the decisions rather than a court making an order and it allows you to raise issues that are important to you and your children, including the real practicalities of how it is all going to work in the best way for your children.

>> GREG: It also means that you can avoid the stress and the time involved in court proceedings and it can lower your legal costs.

>> PRESENTER: Ok, so, how do people know which process is right for them?

>> GREG: Well, before family dispute resolution can start, an assessment will be made to see whether family dispute resolution is suitable for your situation.

Family dispute resolution may involve parents, grandparents and any significant carer involved in the care of the children.

A family dispute resolution practitioner is impartial and will not take sides.  They can help you to look at problems in a positive, objective and child-focused way.  

Family Dispute Resolution is not the same as relationship counseling and it won’t involve discussion of why your relationship ended. Rather, it concentrates on finding solutions for practical parenting arrangements that are best for you children.

Family dispute resolution can help you and the other person discuss issues, look at options, and reach agreements on parenting, property and financial matters.  Importantly, you can use family dispute resolution to develop a parenting plan to set out arrangements for your children. 

A family dispute resolution practitioner will also check that everyone understands what is being said and agreed upon. They’ll also help you recognise when family dispute resolution isn’t working and can suggest other options, such as family counseling or legal advice.
[Flash to GREG in conference with BRENDAN and KYLIE]

>> GREG: So, Brendan, it's certainly about the quality of time and that’s not just quality on the weekends, but also midday contact.

>> BRENDAN: Exactly. Not midday, you know…

[Flash back to interview with PRESENTER, NATASHA and GREG]

>> GREG [continues]: Family dispute resolution focuses on managing the immediate decisions that need to be made, but can also help people develop skills to manage conflict and decision making in the future.

>> NATASHA: Family Dispute resolution through Legal Aid will involve the people that are involved in making decisions about the children.

This might include parents, grandparents or other primary carers, their lawyers and a registered family dispute resolution practitioner.

>> PRESENTER: So which process is right for John and Jenny?

>> NATASHA: Well, John and Jenny have difficulty talking to each other without fighting and Jenny sometimes feels threatened and intimidated by John. 

It is also important to both of them that they have a chance to talk about what should happen with their property.  They have very young children and they both have very different views about what their family’s future should involve.

So, John and Jenny could access either Legal Aid or a Family Relationship Centre.  Because of the high level of emotion they experience and Jenny’s feelings of intimidation when they try to discuss it, they might benefit from having the additional support of a lawyer to help them express their views in the family dispute resolution process. 
The Legal Aid process would offer this legal support, in addition to having the unbiased practitioner present.

>> PRESENTER: And what about Brendan and Kylie?

>> GREG: Well, Brendan and Kylie are more able to discuss the issues together, without a legal advocate present.
With the help of a qualified family dispute resolution practitioner they should also be able to reach agreements that are in the best interests of their children.

In addition, the Family Relationship Centre can provide information about how to help their children adjust to the family separation.

[Flash to Child PRACTITIONER with Child]

>> PRACTITIONER: Have a seat, and we’ll talk about a few things.

[Flash back to interview with PRESENTER, NATASHA and GREG]

>> GREG [continues]: Brendan and Kylie may also benefit from having one of the centre’s child consultants work with them and their children to provide accurate information about their children’s needs and interests.

Last updated 16 November 2021