Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Dispute resolution

Dispute resolution is used to resolve disagreements outside of court.

Dispute resolution is a way of resolving disagreements without going to court. It is a good first step in trying to reach agreement about many kinds of problems, including disputes:

  • between neighbours
  • between separating couples
  • between renters and rental providers (landlords)
  • about goods and services
  • in the workplace.

Dispute resolution (also called ‘alternative dispute resolution’) involves the people who are in dispute talking about the problem and coming to an agreement about how to solve it. You may work out a solution by yourselves or seek help from an impartial person (someone who is not involved in the dispute), such as a mediator.

Dispute resolution is usually quicker and cheaper than going to court. Sometimes it is free.

A court may require you to try to reach agreement using dispute resolution before it will hear your case. For example, in civil cases brought before the Magistrates’ Court or in family disputes over care for a child.

Types of dispute resolution

Negotiation – involves people in dispute communicating directly, either by speaking or in writing, to try to reach an agreement. It is a good first step for most types of dispute.

Mediation – is when an impartial person (a mediator) helps people to negotiate with each other to resolve their dispute. It can be used when individuals have clear conflicts with each other.

Facilitation – is like mediation but is used for groups that are in conflict, such as in planning matters or body corporate disputes. Facilitation can be used as a forum for different points of view to be discussed and considered in reaching an agreement. It is led by an impartial person (a facilitator).

Conciliation – is a process where the people in dispute try to reach an agreement with the assistance and advice of an impartial person (a conciliator). The conciliator usually has some experience of the matter in dispute and can advise the parties of their rights and obligations. Conciliation can be used for disputes where you need to uphold your rights, or need advice on what your rights and responsibilities are, such as in equal opportunity disputes.

Arbitration – is a formal process where the people in dispute present their case to an independent third person (the arbitrator) and are bound by that person's decision. Parties in dispute may agree to arbitration (often as a term of contract before any dispute arises) but often one person applies and the other person is required to participate. Arbitration is sometimes used when other methods of dispute resolution haven't worked, but it's most often used in situations like industrial relations disputes or contractual disputes between businesses.

Except for arbitration, people involved in dispute resolution come to their own agreement. Mediators, facilitators and conciliators can give information and advice, but do not impose a decision about how the dispute should be resolved.

Family dispute resolution

Family dispute resolution is the process of trying to come to an agreement about things like parenting arrangements or division of property, rather than going to court. The aim of family dispute resolution is to reach an agreement that is good for everyone involved, practical and workable and in the best interests of children.

If you apply for a parenting order, in most cases you must attach a certificate from a family dispute resolution practitioner with your court application.

Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria has a freephone service that will work with you to try to resolve your dispute. The centre will talk about your problem with you, discuss options, suggest negotiation strategies and organise mediation, if required. Call 1300 372 888.

The centre does not deal with family law-related disputes, although it can assist older Victorians who are thinking about transferring assets or property to family members.

Read Using family dispute resolution for information about services that can help with family law matters.

Other support

Find out how you can get other support for courts and the legal system.