Using the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service

Using the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service

We have a family dispute resolution service that can help your clients resolve their family disputes. It is called the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDRS).

How the service helps

We can organise a family dispute resolution conference to help your client work out solutions to family law disputes about:

  • parenting arrangements
  • division of property (where parents have superannuation or a home mortgage)
  • spousal maintenance
  • adult child maintenance.

FDRS encourages parents to focus on their children to:

  • develop parenting plans that are in the best interests of the children
  • improve family communication and co-operation
  • reach solutions that work for the family rather than resorting to litigation.

Client eligibility

One of the people involved in the family dispute must have a grant of legal assistance from Victoria Legal Aid to use the service. To find out if your client is eligible for a grant read the VLA Handbook for lawyers.

You can register to apply for a grant for your client online.

How the service works

A case manager will assess whether the matter is suitable for FDRS by speaking with your client and each other party directly and separately.

If the matter is assessed as suitable to proceed, you will be consulted to confirm a conference date. The case manager will have noted each client’s availability to attend and assessed the most appropriate venue and format for the conference.

The case manager will help prepare the parties for the conference by asking them child focused questions. Clients are asked to focus on future arrangements, rather than past conflict.

We have experienced, qualified family dispute resolution practitioners (called ‘chairpersons’) who run the conference. They have authority to issue a section 60I certificate under the Family Law Act 1975.

After the conference the chairperson provides a report. The report includes a recommendation on further grants of assistance. The chairperson’s recommendation is not binding.

Find out more about our chairpersons.

Lawyers are responsible for drafting any agreements reached at the conference. If the agreement is in writing, signed by both parties and dated, it is usually called a parenting plan. We recommend that all clients receive legal advice before signing any agreement.

If the matter has not fully settled, you can ask us to arrange a second conference, as long as your client continues to be eligible for a grant of legal assistance.

Cost to your client

The service is free for your client. This does not include the cost of legal representation. Your client may be eligible for a grant of legal assistance. If not, they will have to pay your legal costs.

Interpreters

If your client needs an interpreter, we will arrange an interpreter for them at no charge at every stage of the FDRS process, including the conference.

Locations

Victoria Legal Aid has offices in the metropolitan and regional locations. See Our offices. FDRS utilises many of these offices for conferences. Conferences are also held at other suitable private venues across Victoria.

We can also arrange a telephone conference, where you and your client can participate from your office.

Children

All decisions are focused on the children's needs. However, children cannot attend the conference and we do not provide childcare. We cannot proceed with a conference or client interviews if clients bring their children.

In some cases, where a case manager assesses it as suitable and if everyone agrees, we can arrange for the children to speak to a qualified child consultant, through our Kids Talk program. This would occur before the conference. Each party would be provided with feedback from the child consultant.

Speak to your client’s case manager for more information about Kid’s Talk. You can also read more in An Evaluation of Victoria Legal Aid’s Kids Talk Program 2007–2010 (doc, 484 KB)

Client safety

We take client safety very seriously. Case managers are trained to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment in every case. If safety is an issue, the case manager can:

  • develop individual safety plans with clients who are concerned about their safety. This can include setting up staggered arrival and departure times. The other party will not be informed about the safety plan
  • arrange for your client to have no direct contact with the other party. The parties can be in separate rooms or we can arrange a telephone conference from your office
  • arrange for clients to be supported by an appropriate support person, such as their family violence worker or counsellor or a supportive and sensible friend or family member.

Confidentiality

What happens during the family dispute resolution process is confidential. This rule does not apply where:

  • we reasonably believe that a child has been or is being abused or is at risk of being abused
  • there is a risk of harm to any person involved or to their property
  • a crime involving violence or threats of violence may be prevented.

Section 40J (2) of the Legal Aid Act 1978 provides that a party or lawyer must not give any information, acquired in the course of or otherwise in connection with a conference, to any other person or body including a court. There are penalties that apply for breach of this section.

There are exceptions that apply to this section.

The lawyer’s role at a conference

We encourage lawyers to be supportive professional participants in our conferences. This role is legal and non-legal.

Supportive professional participants may:

  • provide legal advice during the conference
  • discuss the application of the law with other lawyers in the conference
  • support and coach clients in negotiation and communication skills
  • provide containment for their client
  • reality test alternatives to settlement
  • reality test the workability of proposed agreement
  • draft or assist other lawyer with drafting agreement
  • support their client throughout process
  • work with the chairperson of the conference to focus on the best interests of the child.

For more information read Thinking outside the square: The role of lawyers in Roundtable Dispute Management. (doc, 3.44 MB)