Family dispute resolution at Victoria Legal Aid

Family dispute resolution at Victoria Legal Aid

Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service helps people resolve their family law disputes.

COVID-19 update – We continue to deliver family dispute resolution services for eligible families, using online and phone services, during pandemic. We assess each case individually for suitability for family dispute resolution, including interviewing clients by telephone. We have always offered telephone services, so can easily support families in this way. Find out more about Family Dispute Resolution Service – conferences by telephone (docx, 228.34 KB).

What is family dispute resolution?

It is a process where a trained family dispute resolution practitioner helps people involved in a family law dispute:

  • identify and consider their options
  • work towards reaching an agreement.

In most cases, you can only apply to a family law court for an order about your children if you have a certificate from a family dispute resolution practitioner.

About the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service

We can organise a conference with a family dispute resolution practitioner to help you:

  • develop a parenting plan which sets out arrangements for the care of your children
  • sort out financial issues, such as the division of the property of a relationship, spousal maintenance and maintenance for children over 18 years old.

Our conferences are run by experienced family dispute resolution practitioners registered with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. We call them chairpersons.

Find out more about our chairpersons and their experience.

Culturally secure and safe 

We welcome all families, including rainbow families and caregivers of different generations and relationship. We know that each family is unique, and we believe each family matters. We understand that separation is very difficult for everyone in a family, and that you may feel uncomfortable talking about it. 

We try to make sure our service meets the needs of all families, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Read more information about our Family Dispute Resolution Service working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Who can use the service?

To use our service, at least one person must have a lawyer and a grant of legal assistance from Victoria Legal Aid. The other person can use the service without a lawyer, but we strongly encourage everyone to get legal advice

Contact us for help over the phone. We can also help you find a lawyer.

Cost

Our service is free. However, you may have to pay your lawyer’s fees.

How it works

A case manager will speak to each party individually and decide whether our family dispute resolution service is right for you.

Our case managers are trained to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment in every case. They need to make sure everyone is safe and can negotiate freely. If your case is suitable for our service, your case manager will choose the most appropriate format for your conference.

A chairperson will run the conference to help you reach your own agreement about your family law dispute. They do not give anyone legal advice.

At the end of the process your chairperson give you a certificate to say:

  • all the parties attended and made a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • all the parties attended, but one or both parties did not make a genuine effort to resolve the dispute
  • family dispute resolution started, but part way through the chairperson decided it was not appropriate to continue
  • one party did not attend family dispute resolution
  • the case was not appropriate for family dispute resolution.

If you apply to the court for a parenting order, the judge may take the certificate into account when making decisions in your case, including whether one of you should pay towards the other party’s legal costs.

Your safety is important to us

Tell us if you are worried about your emotional or physical safety. We want you to feel safe.

We will not force you to be in a direct conversation with the other party (even by telephone). When conferences are able to be in person again, you could be in a different room, and we can arrange for you and the other person to arrive and leave the conference at different times so you do not see each other.We can also arrange for you and the other person to arrive and leave the conference at different times so you do not see each other.

We will only book a conference if we consider it safe to do so. Your case manager will:

  • help you to develop a safety plan for the conference, so that you feel safe and protected
  • give you information and resources to help you make decisions about your physical and emotional safety.

Find out more in Family violence - how Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service can help (doc, 215 KB).

Is the conference confidential?

All discussions that take place with your case manager or during your conference are confidential and cannot be used as evidence in court.

It is a serious offence to disclose any confidential information from the family dispute resolution process to any other person or body, including a court, and penalties apply.

This rule does not apply where we:

  • are concerned a child has been abused or is at risk of harm
  • believe that there is a risk of harm to a person or their property
  • become aware of a fraud or criminal act.

How children are involved

All conferences are focussed on the best interests of the child or children.

Where the case manager decides it is appropriate and all parties agree, we may be able to provide additional support for families, to take children’s views and development into account, using  a qualified child consultant. This can happen before a conference takes place, and support the conference. We call this Kids Talk.

Children do not attend conferences. You will need to make your own childcare arrangements for your conference, including finding a private space for the duration of the conference, when by phone..

Read more about Kids Talk.

Where are the conferences?

You can attend a conference at many locations in metropolitan and rural Victoria, including many of our offices. If we don't have a location near you we can also arrange a telephone conference from anywhere in Australia.

Interpreters

You can ask us for an interpreter in your language. You can also ring the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50 and ask to be put through to Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service.

Contact

For more information about Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service please contact us on 1800 136 832.

How can I provide feedback or make a complaint?

If you would like to provide feedback or have a complaint about Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service you can contact us on the number above or email fdrs@vla.vic.gov.au

If we are unable to resolve any complaint you may contact Complaints and Statutory Compliance at complaints@vla.vic.gov.au or write to GPO Box 4380 Melbourne Vic 3001.

More information

To support you through the family dispute resolution process, you can download these fact sheets:

There are also a number of other services that may be able to help you with:

  • counselling
  • parenting orders programs
  • parenting groups after separation
  • support services for children after separation.

For information and contact details of these and other services in your area go to the Family Relationships Online website.

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