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.

We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au

Family Dispute Resolution Service

We help parents going through a separation or divorce to resolve their family law disputes.

About family dispute resolution

In family dispute resolution, a trained practitioner will help those involved in a dispute to:

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

Most of the time, 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.

Sometimes the court will order you to do family dispute resolution before it will look at your case. In some cases, the court will run its own family dispute resolution conference.

About our Family Dispute Resolution Service

If one of the people in your family law dispute is eligible for legal aid, you can use our service, which offers legally assisted family dispute resolution.

If your case is suitable for mediation, we can organise a conference with a family dispute resolution practitioner to help you:

  • develop a parenting plan that sets out arrangements for the care of your children
  • sort out financial issues, including how property is divided, spousal maintenance and maintenance for children over 18 years old.

If you have a lawyer, they will help support you through this process.

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 our service

To use our Family Dispute Resolution Service, at least one person involved in the dispute must have a lawyer and a grant of legal assistance. The other person can use our service without a lawyer, but we strongly encourage everyone to have a lawyer with them at mediation, to make the best use of the conference time.

Call our service on 1800 136 832 for help over the phone. We can also help you find a lawyer.


Our service is free. However, you may have to pay your lawyer’s fees if you do not have a grant of legal aid.

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 in mediation. Whether you are in person or in a video or phone conference, , you can be in a different space and not hear or see the other person. This is called ‘shuttle’ mediation, where the mediator goes between you (and your lawyers). We can also make other safety arrangements.

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.
Family violence – how Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service can help
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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 focused on the best interests of the child or children.

Where the case manager decides it is appropriate and all parties agree, we can provide additional support for families, to take children’s views and development into account, using a qualified child consultant. This happens before a conference takes place, and is designed to help parties to make decisions in a 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. We also regularly offer video or telephone conferences so you could participate remotely.


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.

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 1800 136 832 or email fdrs@vla.vic.gov.au or complete our online feedback form.

If we are unable to resolve any complaint you may contact Internal Legal Services at complaints@vla.vic.gov.au or write to GPO Box 4380 Melbourne Vic 3001.

More information

For more information about our Family Dispute Resolution Service, please contact us on 1800 136 832.

Download our fact sheets

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

Being a parent after separation
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Being a parent after separation – accessible version
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Caring for yourself after separation
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Caring for yourself after separation – accessible version
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How will our separation affect the children?
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How will our separation affect the children – accessible version
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How your children's ages affect your parenting arrangements
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How your children's ages affect your parenting arrangements – accessible version
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Child support

Divorce, separation and marriage annulment

Family violence intervention orders

Parenting arrangements, child contact and child support

Other services that can help

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.