Family dispute resolution
The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission is a registered family dispute resolution provider for people experiencing family separation. Family dispute resolution (FDR) involves a meeting between the people in a family law dispute and a mediator, sometimes with the assistance of their lawyers too. It aims to help people reach agreement without having to go to court.
Do you have questions about family dispute resolution? See our frequently asked questions below, or contact the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343.
Frequently asked questions
What is family dispute resolution?
Family dispute resolution is a process people use when trying to come to an agreement about parenting or property arrangements without going to court. A mediator or ‘family dispute resolution practitioner’ (FDRP) helps people reach agreement; the FDRP is an independent legal or social sciences professional. They cannot give legal advice or make the decision for you. Instead, they encourage people to talk to each other constructively about the problem and—if possible—reach an agreement about how to parent after separation or how to divide family property.
The type of family dispute resolution used by legal aid commissions, including NT Legal Aid, is called family law conferencing (FLC). People are encouraged to have lawyers come along to the family law conference, and ideally to record their agreement in consent orders filed with the court, or otherwise in a written plan.
Whatever is said at the family law conference cannot be used later in a court case; it is “non-admissable” and “confidential”. Being confidential also means that people can talk openly about all the issues they are having problems with, to try to come to a lasting solution.
You can call the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343 to find out more about family law conferencing, or you can visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au to find a Family Relationship Centre, FDRP or other mediation service near you (these other services do not give legal advice).
When can I try family dispute resolution?
At any stage, as soon as six weeks after separation and right up until a court decision, if a court case has already started. Most people will need to try family dispute resolution before they will be able to apply for court. Family dispute resolution takes less time than going to court and will be much cheaper than paying a private solicitor to help you. This does not apply when:
- it is an urgent matter
- your dispute is about property only
- mediation is not appropriate in your circumstances (see the next FAQ, Do I have to go to family dispute resolution?).
Do I have to go to family dispute resolution?
For arrangements about children
If you want court orders about children, the law (and NT Legal Aid funding policy) says you must try family dispute resolution first. This means you must make a genuine attempt to attend family dispute resolution and come to an agreement about the children. The exceptions to this are when:
- your child has been, or may be, abused or neglected if there is a delay to try family dispute resolution
- there has been or is some risk of family or domestic violence
- the matter is urgent
- the reason you are applying to the court is to enforce court orders that you got less than 12 months before.
If you believe your situation fits one of these exceptions you may need to show the court a certificate (called a section 60I Certificate) from the family dispute resolution service which confirms this.
For dividing property
When it comes to dividing property, the court strongly encourages parties to try family dispute resolution before applying to the court. If you don’t try, the court may order conciliation before the court case can continue. Conciliation is a form of family dispute resolution where a registrar will direct parties in their negotiations. If there is no parenting matter involved, only property, NT Legal Aid will generally only fund family law conferencing and not a court case.
What if there has been domestic violence?
Mediation works well when both people are able to safely and confidently discuss what they think should happen with their family law problem. Where there has been family or domestic violence it can make it difficult for both parents/parties to do this, but family law conferences can be set up in a way that helps and is safe.
You should tell the family dispute resolution service if you are worried about your safety or if you have the kind of domestic violence order (DVO) that does not allow parties to come near each other even for family dispute resolution. A lawyer can give you more advice about this.
Should I get legal advice?
Even if you will never go to court, it is always best to get legal advice before you go to family dispute resolution. This way you are fully informed about your rights, responsibilities and options before you start, and you can start working out what your ideal agreement would look like.
What if the other person won't go to family dispute resolution?
If one person refuses to go, you may need the court to get involved in your dispute. If you’re applying for a parenting order, you will generally need to explain to the court that you have asked for family dispute resolution, but the other person refused. Your family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP) can give you a certificate (the section 60I Certificate) to give to the court.
What if we try and it doesn't work out?
If you have tried family dispute resolution and not come to an agreement, or not agreed on everything, you then have the option of going to court, and you might be able to get legal aid to help you do that. If you want to apply to the court a lawyer or the court staff can help you to fill out and file the correct forms. If the other person has applied to the court, you must be notified and you must attend court on the next court day. If you cannot go to court on a certain day, let the court know and get legal help (there is a free duty lawyer on some court days). If you need to attend court by telephone, you should ask the court how to arrange it.
How much does it cost?
You may not have to contribute to the cost of the family law conference, but this depends on your level of income.
What happens if we agree at the family law conference?
An agreement can be put in writing or it may just be a verbal understanding. If you put it in writing it will be either court orders (formal and enforceable once made by the court) or an informal ‘plan’ (operates in good faith once signed and dated).
If you are worried that the other person will not follow a parenting plan, you can make the agreement legally enforceable by asking the court to make it into parenting orders by consent. Asking for orders by consent means that both people agree and both ask the court. There is an Application for Consent Orders (do-it-yourself kit) available at the Family Court of Australia’s website.
It is strongly recommended that you get legal advice before you get orders made. Free legal advice is available through NT Legal Aid by calling the Help Line on 1800 019 343.
Who else can help?
You can find more information in the Family Law Guide, but you could also visit:
- Family Relationship Advice Line—gives information about the family law system in Australia.
- Family Relationship Centres—give information, referrals, dispute resolution and advice on parenting after separation.
- Family law courts—deal with family law cases. Court forms and information on family court processes are available online.
- Federal Circuit Court—looks after matters including family law, child support and divorce. Court forms and information about court processes are available online.
What if I am participating in a conference?
You can read about participating a conference in our Your Family Law Conference brochure. For more information please contact the conference organiser.