Family dispute resolution
The law encourages parents and other people interested in the welfare of the children to come to an agreement on arrangements for children.
If both parents agree, this arrangement can be formally written down as a parenting plan, which can be made legally binding by lodging it with the court as consent orders.
If both parents disagree they may have to try family dispute resolution. If this doesn’t work an application can be made to the court for a parenting order.
Consent orders are legally binding and there may be serious consequences if the orders are breached.
Family dispute resolution means trying to reach an agreement about your family law problems without going to court.
Family dispute resolution services are available at any time in your relationship, including before, during or after a separation or once a court case has begun. They can be used to resolve disputes about:
Before an application is made to a court for parenting orders you will usually have to try family dispute resolution. You should get legal advice.
If you or your children are in danger, contact the police. It’s a matter for the police whether they take action. In an emergency call 000. Get legal advice.
What is family dispute resolution?
Family dispute resolution is a way of resolving your family law problems without going to court. The term ‘dispute resolution’ describes different ways people try to come to an agreement, including:
Family dispute resolution services are available at any time in your relationship, including before, during or after a separation or once a court case has begun.
It can be done informally by using family members or other relevant people in the community to help you resolve your dispute, or formally with the help of an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner.
Family dispute resolution practitioners are independent, accredited professionals who are trained to help people sort through their problems and try to reach agreement.
Family dispute resolution may not always be confidential. You should always check.
Family and domestic violence
Family dispute resolution services take family violence very seriously. If you are worried about your safety, tell the service immediately. In an emergency, call 000.
Certain conditions must be met before a family dispute resolution service can take on cases involving family or domestic violence. Intake processes must be completed for the service provider to determine if your matter is appropriate to proceed through their service. Legal Aid Queensland may conference matters involving domestic violence and can arrange for each person to be in a separate room, or in a separate location by phone,or over the phone with the family dispute resolution practitioner “shuttling” between them so there is no direct contact between the parties. Different services have different intake processes and format options. If you are concerned about your safety at the conference, speak to the service about what formats they offer for the conference.
If you want to apply to court for parenting orders, you will usually have to try family dispute resolution first.
A Family Relationship Centre, Legal Aid Queensland or another family dispute resolution service may be able to help you resolve any disputes about family arrangements.
Before applying to a court you should try and reach an agreement through family dispute resolution. You must include a certificate from a family dispute resolution practitioner with your court application saying that you’ve been to, or attempted to go to, family dispute resolution, or that it’s their opinion that it’s not appropriate for you to go. There are some exceptions to this — get legal advice.
A certificate is valid for 12 months from the family dispute resolution date.
You may be able to apply directly to the court without a certificate if:
- there has been family violence
- there has been child abuse
- your situation is urgent.
Going to family dispute resolution doesn’t mean you have to come to an agreement—you shouldn’t be forced to sign an agreement. Get legal advice and support.
If you reach an agreement you can make it legally enforceable by applying to the court for consent orders.
Get legal advice.
Property and financial issues
You can try and use family dispute resolution to resolve financial issues such as property settlement, spousal maintenance or child support.
If you reach an agreement, you can make it legally enforceable by lodging it with the court as consent orders.
If you want court orders about property, the court may get you to try family dispute resolution.
Get legal advice before applying for consent orders or entering into a financial agreement.
What if the other person refuses to go?
Family dispute resolution won’t work unless each person involved agrees to go. If one person refuses to go, you may need to apply to court to resolve your dispute.
You’ll need to explain to the court that you’ve asked for family dispute resolution, but the other person refused. If you’re applying for a parenting order, the family dispute resolution practitioner can give you a certificate showing you have completed this process.
What if family dispute resolution is unsuccessful?
If you have tried family dispute resolution and couldn’t reach an agreement, you may need to apply to court to resolve the dispute. See Going to court.
Family dispute resolution costs will depend on the service. Some services are free. Others charge different rates depending on your financial situation. Contact the service to find out how much they charge.
Do I need legal advice?
You may need legal advice if:
- you or your child/ren are experiencing family or domestic violence or are at risk of harm
- you’re going to attend family dispute resolution (so you are aware of your rights and responsibilities)
- you’re concerned about your safety (when attending family dispute resolution)
- your children haven’t been returned from a visit with the other parent or person
- you believe your ex-partner may sell, lose or destroy property you have an interest in
- the other person refuses to participate, or their behaviour during family dispute resolution may be affected by mental illness or a drug or alcohol problem.
Get legal advice
We may give legal advice on family dispute resolution.
The following organisations may be able to give legal advice.
Community legal centres—give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help with your matter.
Queensland Law Society— can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.
Family Relationship Advice Line—gives information about the family law system in Australia.
Who else can help?
These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.
Family Relationship Centres—give information, referrals, dispute resolution and advice on parenting after separation.
Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia—looks after matters including family law, child support and divorce. Court forms and information about court processes are available online.
Disclaimer: This content is for general purposes only and not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.
Last updated 23 May 2023
If you have a general question for Legal Aid Queensland, please use the general question form or call 1300 65 11 88, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.