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Family dispute resolution means trying to come to an agreement about your family arrangements, rather than going to court. Often this is done informally in the community – using family or other people to try to sort out arrangements. The term ‘dispute resolution’ describes different ways people try to come to an agreement, including negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
The people who offer these services are independent professionals. They are trained to help people sort through their problems and try to reach agreement.
Dispute resolution may or may not be confidential. Always ask.
You can try family dispute resolution at any stage, even before separation or after a court case has started.
If you want court orders about children (parenting orders), you usually have to try family dispute resolution first. The court will tell you how to do this. If you want court orders about property, the court may get you to try family dispute resolution too.
You need to prove to the court you have tried family dispute resolution, or that it is not suitable in your situation, for example, if there is domestic violence. You may need a certificate from the family dispute resolution service that says this.
You can also apply directly to the court without a certificate if there has been domestic violence, child abuse or in urgent situations. Get legal advice.
Going to family dispute resolution does not mean you have to come to an agreement. Do not feel forced into signing an agreement. You can still get legal help to make decisions. For example, you can get legal advice about what an agreement means before signing it.
You can make an agreement legally enforceable by asking the court to make it a consent order. Get legal advice on what the agreement means.
Some people find it helpful to have a parenting plan, which is a written agreement about the children. If your parenting plan was made after 1 July 2006, you can agree to change the arrangements yourself. You do not need to go to court. If you already have parenting orders, the parenting plan must be followed in the areas where it is different from the orders.
An exception to this is domestic violence orders, which must always be followed. See ‘Children’.
Tell the family dispute resolution service if you are worried about your safety. Family dispute resolution services take domestic violence very seriously. They may only take on cases involving domestic violence if certain conditions are met. For example, there must be no domestic violence order that stops each person being involved in dispute resolution or counselling. They may be able to do conciliation or family dispute resolution with each person in a separate room or building, or over the phone.
Family dispute resolution cannot work unless each person involved agrees. If one person refuses to go, you may need the court to sort out your dispute. You will need to explain to the court you have asked for family dispute resolution, but the other person refused. If you are applying for a parenting order, the family dispute resolution practitioner can give you a certificate that says this.
If you have tried family dispute resolution and it has not worked, you then have the option of going to court.
If the other parent has applied to the court, you must be notified and you must go to court if you can. If you cannot go to court on a certain day, let the court know and get legal help.
Courts are not attached to the government, police or any other agency. Most cases are open to the public, unless the court says otherwise. The court will hear from each person involved and then make a decision. For more information on what going to court means, contact Legal Aid Queensland and the courts.
Some dispute resolution services are free. Others charge different rates depending on your financial situation. Contact the service directly and ask how much they charge.
You can call Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 65 11 88. You can be referred to a range of services.
You can also call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au to find a Family Relationship Centre or other dispute resolution service near you.
More information on family law can be downloaded from our website at www.legalaid.qld.gov.au