Family dispute resolution

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Disputes between family members may be addressed by ADR (alternative dispute resolution). Indeed, the Family Court of Australia regards it as the preferred method of resolving disputes.

Family dispute resolution is a process of the Australian family law system introduced on 1 July 2008. Families in dispute who want to apply to a court for a parenting order must first attend family dispute resolution. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example cases involving child abuse and family violence. Family dispute resolution is not currently a pre-application requirement for property matters.

The issues discussed in family dispute resolution can include problems that have arisen during or after separation and the effect these problems have had on the children; how the child’s best interests can best be served within the new structure of their family; parenting plans; and property and finances. Family dispute resolution is essentially a structured discussion offered to separating parents and significant others to assist in decision making about parenting and/or property. All discussion that take place during family dispute resolution are confidential, unless either party discloses an intention to harm a person or their property, or child abuse.

Family dispute resolution is designed to create the opportunity for parents and significant others to discuss how each can best continue to parent while maintaining a focus on their child’s best interests being served.

Family dispute resolution practitioners can assist parents to develop parenting plans. They are impartial and do not take sides. However, in discussions involving the welfare of the children, the practitioner may adopt a more advisory role in order to help keep the best interests of the children in focus.

Parenting plans[edit]

A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement that covers the day-to-day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of a child’s daily life, as well as how parents consult and agree on important issues about their children. A parenting plan can be changed at any time as long as both parents agree.

With the assistance of a family dispute resolution practitioner, parents are encouraged to isolate the issues in the dispute; develop and consider options to resolve those issues; if appropriate, attempt to agree to one or more of those options; and if a child is affected, attempt to agree to options that are in the best interests of the children.

Agreements reached in Family Dispute Resolution form the basis for a parenting plan. A well constructed parenting plan is designed to assist parents to be good managers of their children’s wellbeing. When parents are good managers of their children’s wellbeing it assists children to cope with the changes in their family structure. Agreements reached in Family Dispute Resolution are not legally binding however; an existing consent order can be changed if both parents agree to a new arrangement.

Section 60I certificates[edit]

Under the Family Law Act any person attending Family Dispute Resolution to discuss parenting concerns will be issued with a section 60I Certificate that reflects their engagement with the Family Dispute Resolution process. Under the Family Law Act, a section 60I Certificate is required prior to making an application to the court for a parenting order.

Not all cases are suitable for Family Dispute Resolution. If a case is deemed unsuitable by the family dispute resolution practitioner, a section 60I Certificate reflecting this decision will be issued.

If the other party does not wish to participate in Family Dispute Resolution a section 60I Certificate will be issued to reflect their refusal.

Child Support Agency (CSA) assessments[edit]

The Child Support Agency will refer parents in dispute over child support assessments to Family Dispute Resolution. A signed parenting plan or verbal consent from both parties will supply the required information to the CSA for a child support assessment to be made.

Property/financial matters[edit]

Separating couples who want to resolve property and or financial issues may attend Family Dispute Resolution, however for property and financial matters Family Dispute Resolution is not compulsory. Some of the issues discussed in a property discussion can be how property should be divided and emotional connections to household possessions such as pets, collections and personal effects.

Legal advice[edit]

Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners remain impartial and do not give legal advice. Family lawyers are experts in interpreting the laws that govern parenting orders and the division of property. A family lawyer is an advocate who can assist their client to achieve their best outcome.

Counselling[edit]

Pre- and post-separation counselling can be beneficial while parties process their emotional reaction to separation. Counselling may be suggested by the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner.

Resources legislation[edit]