Victoria Legal Aid

We support First Nations-led family mediation processes

Our submission supports wider access for culturally appropriate and self-determined family mediation processes for First Nations clients.

Monday 25 April 2022 11:00pm

‘Being an Aboriginal person, I understand trauma and its impact on individuals, families, and communities. I can create an informal environment in which Aboriginal clients feel emotionally safe’.

Kathy Cullen is a Wiradjuri family lawyer and Chairperson at our Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDRS).

Kathy contributed to a submissionExternal Link supporting Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) to be resourced to run their own family dispute resolution (FDR) processes.

The Australian Government has committed to expanding FDR for First Nations communitiesExternal Link and has been consulting on the best ways to achieve culturally safe services.

‘FDR offers families an opportunity to make their own decisions about parenting arrangements and financial issues after separation in a safe and supportive environment,’ said Freia Carlton, FDRS Manager.

‘It can help families to work through and reach agreement on issues without the need for court and deeper entanglement in the legal system,’ she said.

Our submission is supportive of wider access for culturally appropriate and self-determined FDR for First Nations communities. We recommended that alternative pathways to becoming an FDR practitioner be created for people who have significant experience working with First Nations families and that ongoing scholarships be offered to alleviate the costs of qualification.

We also recommended that to meet the needs of diverse communities, ACCOs should be empowered to deliver flexible FDR processes and to provide a place-based and culturally safe model.

We’ve worked with Kathy to build our own capacity to deliver culturally responsive FDR servicesExternal Link for First Nations clients. We acknowledge that building our cultural competence is an ongoing process and there continues to be a great need for culturally safe and appropriate family dispute resolution across Australia.

In the submission, Kathy shared her journey of becoming the first person in her family to finish university and how she was motivated to give back to her community by working in the law and later, by becoming a family dispute resolution practitioner.

‘The legal needs of Aboriginal clients are often more complex than those of other clients, not only often involving several areas of law, but also a range of social and cultural issues,’ said Kathy.

'When accessing the family law system, Aboriginal people face multiple, simultaneous difficulties (for example, housing, family violence and child safety), which impact on their capacity to engage with the system. I have worked with many Aboriginal people who have had negative prior experiences with courts and conventional justice processes, who would rather give up than try to exercise their rights through the court. Aboriginal women may choose not to engage with the family law system as they are concerned that Child Protection agencies will be involved and take their children away.'

Kathy explains that mediation provides a more flexible way of working with First Nations families, that can be more empowering than court processes.

‘For example, the current family law system does not take sufficient account of the unique kinship and child rearing practices of Aboriginal peoples. It does not envision parental responsibility to include a wider kinship concept. In mediation I can explain this concept, along with other issues that are often brought up, such as Aboriginal parents living in overcrowded housing and intergenerational trauma, to lawyers involved in the mediation, which usually results in a better understanding of Aboriginal parenting, empowering the client.

‘To some extent mediation allows some flexibility, rather than rigid rules and processes of the Court system,’ she said.

In preparing our submission we consulted with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and Djirra and offered our endorsement for their submissions to the consultation process.

More information

Read our submissionExternal Link .

Read more about our Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDRS).

Reviewed 28 April 2022