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.
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.
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.
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 . The other person can use our service without a lawyer, but we strongly encourage everyone to get legal advice.
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.
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 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 .
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 . If we don't have a location near you we can also arrange a telephone conference from anywhere in Australia.
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?
For more information about our Family Dispute Resolution Service, please contact us on 1800 136 832.
To support you through the family dispute resolution process, you can download our fact sheets:
There are also a number of other services that may be able to help you with:
- parenting orders programs
- parenting groups after separation
- support services for children after separation.
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
Reviewed 30 March 2022