The family law system encourages parents to resolve their disagreements about children without going to court. If you and your partner cannot agree on arrangements between yourselves, then you may need to attend Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) and obtain a section 601 certificate before you can apply to court.
What is FDR?
Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) includes counselling, mediation, arbitration and other types of conciliation. FDR is more likely to lead to an outcome that suits both parents, when both parents have control over the outcome and any agreements made. It is also cheaper, and less stressful than going to court. You may not need a legal representative, but it is a good idea to seek legal advice before using a FDR service or practitioner.
Family Relationship Centres can provide details about FDR services (e.g. Relationships Australia, LifeWorks or Better Place Australia) and their locations. For details call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or visit the Family Relationships website.
How does it work?
Once a parent has contacted a registered FDR service or practitioner for assistance, the service will then contact the other parent to invite them to participate. If both parties agree to participate in FDR, then an independent, trained FDR practitioner will meet with both parents and assess whether it is safe for FDR to proceed.
If it is safe to do so, then an FDR practitioner will organise mediation where both parents’ views are heard and options for agreement are explored. Should either parent not feel safe being in the same room as the other parent, then the FDR practitioner can organise a ‘shuttle’ mediation where the parents are in separate rooms and have no direct contact with each other.
In the case of family violence, mediation is not recommended due to the power and control that one partner already has over the partner. If mediation is being sought by an abusive ex-partner and you feel intimidated, it is important to inform the FDR service and tell them what you need to ensure you and your children’s physical and emotional safety.
At the end of the process both parents will receive a section 601 certificate, which will state whether:
- the matter is not appropriate for FDR, or
- one of the parties did not attend, or
- either or both parties did or did not make a ‘genuine effort’.
Generally what is said during family dispute resolution or family counselling is confidential and cannot be disclosed to any other person, including the court. There are exceptions to this: disclosure may be necessary to protect a child from harm, prevent or minimise a threat to the life or health of another person such as family violence, report possible criminal offences, or damage to property. The court may also order that a counsellor or FDR practitioner give evidence of any admission or disclosure of abuse.
Exceptions to attending FDR: family violence and child abuse
If there has been child abuse or family violence, or there is a risk of this occurring, then you can apply for an exemption from attending FDR before going to court. You also do not have to attend FDR if the matter is urgent, for example, if a child needs to be protected, has been taken without consent or a parent fears a child will be taken overseas without consent (see our post on ‘Parenting Orders (link needed) for more information).
For more information visit the Family Court Circuit web page on the court procedures and requirements for FDR.
This information sheet was last updated in 2015.