From July 1, 2007, changes have occurred in the Family Law system. Due to these changes families in dispute who want to apply to a court for a parenting order must first attend Family Dispute Resolution. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example cases involving child abuse and family violence.
The issues discussed in Family Dispute Resolution may include:
· How your child’s best interests can best be served within the new structure of their family
· Parenting Plans
· Property and finances
What is Family Dispute Resolution (FDR)?
Family Dispute Resolution essentially is a structured discussion offered to separating couples to assist in decision making about parenting and/or property. All discussion that take place during Family Dispute Resolution are confidential, unless either party discloses an intention to harm a person or their property.
FDR creates an opportunity for you and your ex-partner to discuss how each of you can best continue to parent while maintaining a focus on your child’s best interests being served.
FDR Practitioners can assist parents to develop parenting plans. FDR Practitioners are impartial and do not take sides. However, in discussions involving the welfare of your children, the practitioner may adopt a more advisory role in order to help you keep the best interests of your children in focus.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement that covers the day to day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of a child’s daily life, as well as how parents consult and agree on important issues about their children.
A parenting plan can be changed at any time as long as both parents agree.
With the assistance of a family dispute resolution practitioner, parents are encouraged to:
· Isolate the issues in the dispute;
· Develop and consider options to resolve those issues;
· If appropriate, attempt to agree to one or more of those options; and
· If a child is affected, attempt to agree to options that are in the best interests of the children.
Agreements reached in Family Dispute Resolution form the basis for a parenting plan. A well constructed parenting plan assists parents to be good managers of their children’s wellbeing. Being a good manager of your child will support them as they cope with the changes in their family structure.
Agreements reached in FDR are not legally binding however; an existing consent order can be changed if both parents agree to a new arrangement.
FDR and Section 60I Certificates
Under the Family Law Act any person attending Family Dispute Resolution to discuss parenting concerns will be issued with a Section 60I Certificate that reflects their engagement with the FDR process. A Section 60I Certificate will enable you under the Family Law Act to apply to the court for a parenting order.
Not all cases are suitable for Family Dispute resolution and should your case be deemed unsuitable by the FDR practitioner, a Section 60I Certificate reflecting this decision will be issued.
If your ex partner does not wish to participate in Family Dispute Resolution a Section 60I Certificate will be issued to reflect their refusal.
Child Support Agency (CSA) Assessments
CSA will refer parents in dispute over child support assessments to Family Dispute Resolution. A signed parenting plan or verbal consent from both parties will supply the required information to the CSA for a child support assessment to be made.
Separating couples who want to resolve property/financial issues may attend Family Dispute Resolution, however for property and financial matters FDR is not compulsory.
Some of the issues discussed in a property mediation are:
· How property should be divided
· Emotional connections to household possessions such as pets, collections and personal effects.
Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners remain impartial and do not give legal advice. However it is advisable to discuss options relating to your dispute over parenting and financial matters with a family lawyer. Family lawyers are experts in interpreting the laws that govern parenting orders and the division of property. A family lawyer is an advocate who can assist you to achieve your best outcome. It is in your interest to have a discussion with a family lawyer to ensure you are clear about your legal position.
Each party attending for property and financial matters will be asked to present an informed understanding of their legal position, to ensure a realistic discussion eventuates.
Pre and post separation counselling can be beneficial while you process the emotional reaction to separation from your partner and your children. Counselling may be suggested to assist you in dealing with separation.