We have a lawyer-assisted 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.
How the service works
Intake and assessment
Once FDRS receives a grant for mediation, we will write to each party to confirm our involvement, invite the other party (if not court-ordered or referred by an Independent Children's Lawyer) and then allocate it to a case manager. The case manager will conduct a risk assessment and assess whether the matter is suitable for dispute resolution (as required by FDR regulations) by speaking with your client and each other party directly and separately and reviewing any available materials such as intervention or other court orders or reports.
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.
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.
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.
Format of conferences
Victoria Legal Aid has offices in the metropolitan and regional locations. See . FDRS utilises many of these offices for in-person conferences. Conferences are also held at other suitable private venues across Victoria.
We also regularly arrange a video or telephone conference, where you and your client can participate from your office.
FDRS decides on the most suitable format, whether in-person or otherwise, including whether it is a shuttle conference.
FDRS prioritises and promotes children's needs. While children cannot be present during a conference or client interview, we do offer an opportunity for children to participate.
If the children are old enough and 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 . This would occur before the conference. Each party would be provided with feedback from the child consultant.
Property and maintenance
If the disputes are financial, we will require each party to also complete an FDRS financial statement and/or court form, before the case will be allocated to a case manager.
Find out more about the Family Law Property Program by downloading factsheets for clients and lawyers.
We take client safety very seriously. If risk is too high, it may not be suitable for dispute resolution. Case managers are trained to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment in every case. If safety is an issue, and it is otherwise suitable, 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 video or telephone conference with your client with you at your office
- arrange for clients to be supported by an appropriate support person, such as their family violence worker or counsellor or an appropriate friend or family member.
Under family and other law, what happens during the family dispute resolution process is confidential. This 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 FDRS
Delays are reduced if FDRS is provided with party details and relevant orders and other materials as early as possible.
Lawyers can make a big difference to the outcome of dispute resolution by preparing their clients for the process and being supportive, professional participants during our conferences.
This role has legal and non-legal aspects. Lawyers acting as 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 agreements
- draft or assist another lawyer with drafting agreements
- support their client throughout the process
- work with the chairperson of the conference to focus their client on the best interests of the child.
For more information read Thinking outside the square: The role of lawyers in Roundtable Dispute Management.
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 07 August 2023