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Family dispute resolution conferences at Legal Aid NSW

Better for you. Best for your children.

What is a family dispute resolution conference?

A family dispute resolution conference is mediation that helps families agree about:

  • where children will live
  • how much time they will spend with family members, or
  • what should happen with property or money after a relationship breaks down.

How can it help me?

Family dispute resolution is a good way to sort out disagreements about caring for your children or your disputes over property or money. It is confidential, free, faster and less stressful than going to court.

It can help everyone to focus on the children and work out practical solutions to meet their needs.

You will have more say in what happens and are more likely to get an outcome that suits you that works, and that will last.

What is different about dispute resolution at Legal Aid NSW?

Family dispute resolution conferences at Legal Aid NSW are different from mediation services at some other organisations, because you can take a lawyer with you to advise you.
Having a lawyer at the conference also makes it easier to turn any agreement the parties reach into court orders.

The Family Dispute Resolution service at Legal Aid NSW can hold a family dispute resolution conference for you before the matter goes to court or at any point after that up until the final hearing date.

The service has been going for more than 20 years and we engage some of the most experienced family mediators in Australia.

We are one of the biggest mediation services in the country, holding more than 2700 conferences every year.

How does a conference happen?

One of the parties in the dispute must have approved legal aid funding .

When Legal Aid NSW gives one of the parties funding for a family dispute resolution conference, a conference organiser from Legal Aid NSW will invite the other parties to attend, and arrange a time that suits everyone. The conference organiser will not be at the conference.

All invited parties can apply for legal aid. You can check your financial eligibility using the means test indicator.

What will my lawyer do at the conference?

Your lawyer is at the conference to give you legal advice and support, and to assist in the discussions between the parties.

The parties with legal aid will have a lawyer with them at the conference, and all other parties can decide whether to pay to bring a lawyer or to represent themselves.

Family dispute resolution conferences can take place in many locations across NSW. They are held face to face, or with the parties in separate rooms, or by telephone.  

A conference can take up to half a day, so everyone needs to keep at least four hours free.

You cannot bring your children to the conference.

Do I have to go to a family dispute resolution conference?

The Family Law Act encourages parents to try  to sort out their issues through  family dispute resolution instead of  going to court.

You must go to a family dispute resolution conference before you can start a case at court—except in some situations where it would not be suitable.

It may not be suitable to go to a family dispute resolution conference if:

  • your case is urgent
  • there is a risk of domestic or family violence, intimidation or child abuse
  • someone can’t take part because of a physical or mental illness, or because of where they live, or
  • you have parenting orders that are less than 12 months old, and the other person has not kept to these orders. In these cases you should go straight to court.

What will happen if I don’t go?

If your case is suitable for a family dispute resolution conference, but you don’t come, we may give the other party a certificate which says that you didn’t attend. They can give that to the Court and the Court may send you back to a family dispute resolution conference. The Court may also order you to pay the other side’s legal costs.

What happens before the family dispute resolution conference?

The conference organiser will ask all parties (or their lawyers) to complete an intake and assessment checklist to help us decide whether the matter is right for mediation.

We will also consider your cultural, religious and language background when we organise the conference.

You should let us know if you have any particular needs—for example, we will book an interpreter, make sure there is disabled access, or try to book a convenient venue.

What happens if a family dispute conference can’t go ahead?

If a party refuses to attend or doesn’t turn up, we may give the other party a certificate so that they can go to court.

If we decide that the matter is not suitable for a conference, we will give all parties a certificate so that they can let the court know of our decision before starting proceedings.

What happens at the conference?

The conference will be conducted by an experienced family dispute resolution practitioner (also called a mediator).

All the parties will have an opportunity to talk about the issues that are important to them.

The mediator will:

  • ask each party what they want to happen and why
  • test if any proposal is practical
  • help everyone to listen and talk to each other to try to reach an agreement which can be turned into court orders
  • ask the lawyer to write up any agreement reached – as either orders or a parenting plan

During the conference, each party will have an opportunity to have time alone with the mediator. What is said in that private meeting will not be shared with the other parties unless the party agrees it can be shared.

What will my lawyer do at the conference?

Your lawyer is at the conference to give you legal advice and support, and to assist in the discussions between the parties.

What if I am worried about my safety or my children’s safety?

You must tell your lawyer, or Legal Aid NSW if you are worried about your safety at a conference.

What happens after the conference?

If you reach an agreement, it can be made into court orders, or a less formal parenting plan.

If you cannot agree, or if the mediation is terminated, the mediator may issue a certificate so that you can take the matter to court.

If you received legal aid for the conference you  must put in a new application for legal aid   for  any further help after the conference. 

More information and  legal advice

Legal Aid NSW Family Dispute Resolution Service
Legal Aid NSW’s mediation service.
Call (02) 9219 5118 or (02) 9219 5119 or visit  www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/fdr

Legal Aid NSW
Family law advice is available at our offices around NSW.  To find your nearest Legal Aid NSW office visit:  

LawAccess NSW
LawAccess NSW gives free telephone legal information and in some cases legal advice to people in NSW. They can also refer you to your closest Legal Aid NSW office or Community Legal Centre or to a private lawyer who can give you advice about family dispute resolution.

Call 1300 888 529 or visit  

This publication is a general guide to the law. You should not rely on it as legal advice, and we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about your situation.

The information is correct at the time of printing. However it may change.

For more information contact LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529 .

Order brochures online at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/publications or email publications@legalaid.nsw.gov.au

This brochure is available in Arabic, Dari/Farsi, Vietnamese and Simplified Chinese.

Do you need an interpreter?
If you need help to talk to us in your language, call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)  on 131 450 (9am–5pm).

Do you find it hard  to hear or speak?
If you find it hard to hear or speak:

  • call us through the National Relay Service on 133 677 or  www.relayservice.gov.au or
  • call LawAccess NSW on  1300 889 529

December 2016