Family Dispute Resolution

The family law system encourages parents to try and agree on arrangements for their children without having to go to court. Family dispute resolution (FDR) is a practical, less stressful and inexpensive way for separating families to sort out these arrangements with help from a FDR practitioner who can help you discuss issues, look at options and work out how best to reach agreement.


What is FDR?

FDR is the legal term for services (such as mediation) that help couples affected by separation and divorce to sort out family disputes. FDR can help you to agree on a range of issues relating to property, money, and most importantly – your children.

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Who can provide FDR?

FDR services are provided by a range of individuals and organisations, for example, Family Relationship Centres, community organisations, legal aid commissions, and individuals such as lawyers, social workers or psychologists. If you are in a remote area, you can access FDR services via telephone.

Only accredited FDR practitioners can issue certificates under the Family Law Act 1975. An accredited FDR practitioner is a person who meets standards contained in the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners) Regulations 2008. Contact details for accredited FDR practitioners can be found on the Family Dispute Resolution Register

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Is FDR compulsory?

You can only apply to a family law court for a parenting order when you have a certificate from an accredited FDR practitioner which states that you have made a genuine effort to resolve your dispute through FDR. The requirement to participate in FDR applies to new applications, and applications seeking changes to an existing parenting order.

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What are the exceptions?

There are some exceptions to this requirement where:

  • you are applying for consent orders
  • you are responding to an application
  • the matter is urgent
  • there has been, or there is a risk of, family violence or child abuse
  • a party is unable to participate effectively (eg, due to incapacity or georgaphical location), or
  • a person has contravened and shown a serious disregard for a court order made in the last 12 months.

When applying to the court, you will need to provide information to demonstrate that one of the exceptions applies to you. If you use the exception relating to family violence or child abuse, you will also need to get information about your options and the services that can help you from a family counsellor or FDR practitioner or by ringing the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321. If you have concerns for your safety you should advise the court. You do not have to get this information if you can satisfy the court that there is a risk of violence or child abuse.

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Who can go to FDR?

The people having the disagreement need to be involved in the FDR process. If no one objects, a support person or other family member can attend with you. If you would like your lawyer with you at a Family Relationship Centre, you must discuss this early with Centre staff as they may not agree to your request.

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Will your child be included in FDR?

No, but a family counsellor may talk with your child when you and the other parent are attending FDR. This will only happen with parental consent.

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What information will an FDR practitioner provide you with?

Before you start FDR, your FDR practitioner must tell you about the FDR process, your rights (including your right to complain about the service), his or her qualifications, and the fees charged. If you are trying to resolve a disagreement about your children, the FDR practitioner must give you information about parenting plans and other services available to help you.

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What happens during FDR?

Before FDR can commence, an assessment will be made to see whether FDR is suitable for your situation.

FDR practitioners are impartial and will not take sides. They can help you to explore family issues in an objective and positive way. Unlike counselling, FDR does not focus on the emotional side of relationships. It concentrates on resolving specific disputes.

FDR can help both of you to discuss issues, look at options, and work out how best to reach agreement. Importantly, you can use FDR to develop a parenting plan to set out arrangements for your children. An FDR practitioner will also check that everyone understands what is being said and agreed upon.

When FDR is not working, the FDR practitioner can suggest other options, such as family counselling.

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Are things said at FDR confidential and can they be used in court?

Everything you say in front of an FDR practitioner is confidential – except in certain circumstances, such as to prevent a threat to someone's life or health or the commission of a crime.

What is said during FDR cannot be used as evidence in court. However, an FDR practitioner must report child abuse or anything that indicates a child is at risk of abuse, and this may be used as evidence in some circumstances.

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What if you are feeling unsafe?

It is important that you feel safe, and are safe before, during and after FDR.

If you have any concerns about your safety or the safety of your children, you should tell the staff at the FDR service as soon as possible. This may mean that FDR stops or does not proceed. However, if parties agree, they can participate in FDR without being in the same room.

There is no requirement to undertake FDR if there has been family violence or child abuse.

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What happens to any agreement reached at FDR?

If you reach agreement on arrangements for your children, this can be recorded as a parenting plan. A parenting plan must be in writing, dated and signed by both parents. Your agreement or parenting plan can include mechanisms to change arrangements and resolve disagreements. Parenting plans can be renegotiated over time, if necessary.

Be aware than any changes to the care arrangements for your children can affect child support, income support and family assistance payments. There are special rules about including child support in your parenting plan. For example, if your parenting plan specifies amounts for child support, the Child Support Agency (CSA) can enforce your agreement if it is also a valid support agreement, and you or the other parent have asked CSA to accept it.

If you want to make your final parenting plan or financial agreement legally binding, you can apply to the court to have your agreement made into a consent order. You can do this yourself or ask your lawyer to do it for you.

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What if FDR doesn't work?

Even if you can't reach agreement, FDR may help you and your former spouse or partner communicate better. If you try FDR but still need to go to court because of a parenting order, you will need a certificate from an accredited FDR practitioner.

The certificate will say one of the following:

  • the other party did not attend
  • you and the other party attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • you and the other party attended but one or both of you did not make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • the FDR practitioner decided your case was not appropriate for FDR, or
  • the FDR practitioner decided it was not appropriate to continue part way through the FDR process.
  • You should be aware that if you do not attend FDR or make a genuine effort to attend, this can influence the timing of your court hearing. The court may also order you to pay the other party's legal costs.

Note: 'Party' means the other person or persons involved in the parenting dispute.

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What will it cost?

The cost of FDR depends on the provider. Private providers set their own fees. Family Relationship Centres provide one hour of FDR free. Centres will charge clients earning $50,000 or more gross annual income $30 per hour for the second and third hours of FDR. Those clients who earn less than $50,000 gross annual income and those who receive Commonwealth health and social security benefits will receive the second and third hours of FDR free. Centres may also charge fees in accordance with the Centre’s fees policy if further joint sessions are required. Other FDR services funded by the Australian Government are required to have a fees policy that takes into account the capacity of the client to pay. You should let your FDR service provider know if you are on a low income or experiencing financial difficulties.

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More information

Search for more information about FDR or find an accredited FDR practitioner in your local area on Family Relationships Online. Alternatively you can call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321. The Family Relationship Advice Line is open from 8 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday, and 10 am to 4 pm on Saturdays.

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2016 : Last modified 1/07/2011 12:00 AM