If you’re at odds with a spouse or partner, you’re probably experiencing a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings.
And you’ve probably got lots of questions. Should you try to mend the relationship and stay together for the sake of the kids? Or should you just end it before things get any worse? And if you do want to end it, how can you do so without taking the matter to court?
Fortunately, there are options. Government-funded dispute resolution services are employed by both the Family Court and also the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In many cases, the courts order former spouses or partners who can’t agree on financial, property or parenting matters to try dispute resolution prior to any hearings. Family lawyers also recommend these services to their clients.
Here’s a closer look at the different types of dispute resolution commonly used in family law cases.
Family Dispute Resolution (FDR)
This is a confidential process in which someone with special training in dispute resolution will help you and your former spouse or partner reach consensus on important issues related to your separation and divorce.
Your family lawyer may recommend Family Dispute Resolution, or FDR, if you and your former spouse or partner disagree on property allocation, financial matters or parenting issues. Because lots of people and community groups offer FDR services, you may meet with a social worker, lawyer, or even someone from a Family Relationship Centre.
You can learn more about the FDR providers in your area by visiting www.familyrelationships.gov.au, or calling the Family Relationships Advice Line on 1800 050 321.
You should be aware that dispute resolution is not necessarily free. As a rule of thumb, private providers set their own fees, whilst Family Relationship Centres offer free services for a limited time and then charge based on your financial situation. To learn more about FDR costs, visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au/talk-someone/centres
Finally, you should also be aware that you won’t need legal representation during FDR. However, it’s always a good idea to get advice from a lawyer before your first session. You’ll also need a legal representative to document any agreements so they are legally binding and enforceable.
Mediation is another alternative to court that is frequently used in family law cases. Like FDR, it can be used to address key issues that surface during separation and divorce.
In mediation, a neutral third party with specialised training in facilitating discussions about family law matters, will work with you and your lawyers to help you come to an agreement on relevant issues. Again, you will likely have a choice of qualified professionals to work with if you agree to pursue this option.
Some other options
Sometimes, mediation and FDR aren’t effective or viable. But this doesn’t mean that all of your options have been exhausted.
Another option is to have your family lawyer conduct relevant negotiations with your former partner or spouse and/or his or her lawyer. If these negotiations break down, the next step is to consider an informal conference.
At this type of meeting, yourself and your ex, with your respective lawyers, will meet (without a mediator) to try and reach a consensus on all of the issues in question. Although you will both have to attend this meeting, you won’t necessarily have to deal with one another directly. If you are uncomfortable or it is not safe for you to be in the same room, you may be able to wait in a separate space while the talks are held.
If all else fails…
Unfortunately, there are some cases in which an estranged couple simply can’t come to terms on property, financial and/or parenting issues related to separation or divorce. If FDR, mediation, negotiations and informal conferences aren’t options or don’t work, the case will simply go to court.
The types of matters that typically end up in court include:
- those involving child safety;
- matters involving family and/or domestic violence;
- cases involving parental kidnapping;
- cases in which one person flatly refuses to engage in any attempts to resolve the issues in question.
It goes without saying that separation and divorce are never easy. Even if both parties can still communicate well and there are few points of contention, it is important to get proper legal advice from a qualified and experienced family lawyer. If you want to know more about how you can resolve any disagreements related to your separation or divorce without going to court, contact us today.