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Do I have to Attend FDR Mediation

Do I have to attend family dispute resolution?

Couples who have a dispute about parenting arrangements are required to attend Family Dispute Resolution and make a genuine effort to resolve their dispute before they can make an application to a Court for orders in relation to their children.

This requirement does not apply in certain circumstances, such as where there is urgency or in cases involving child abuse or family violence.

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Do I have to Attend FDR Mediation

Exceptions to Compulsory Family Dispute Resolution

In 2006 it became mandatory for all couples to attend family dispute resolution prior to filing an application with the court to determine custody. One of the aims of this legislation was to encourage parents to reach an agreement about parenting on their own terms, without the interference of the courts. After family dispute resolution is attempted, the practitioner involved in the process issues one of four types of certificates:

  1. A person did not attend family dispute resolution with another party because of the other party’s refusal or failure to do so;
  2. A person did not attend family dispute resolution because the practitioner considered that it would not be appropriate to conduct such resolution (having regard to matters prescribed by the regulations);
  3. A person did attend family dispute resolution and all attendees made a genuine effort to resolve the issue or issues;
  4. A person did attend family dispute resolution but that the person or another party did not make a genuine effort tot resolve the issue or issues

The court will consider these certificates prior to making a ruling in the case, and can also consider the certificates when assessing whether to order costs be paid by a party.

Does that mean that you absolutely have to attend family dispute resolution and get one of these certificates before you can file a custody action?

Not exactly.

While the legislators voiced a clear preference for settling child-related matters through family dispute resolution, they also recognised six classes of cases in which family dispute resolution should not be required.

If parties are applying for a consent order, then they have already reached an agreement on how to handle child-related issues. Therefore, ordering the parties to attend family dispute resolution prior to filing an application for the consent order would be futile.

2. Violence and Abuse

Where the court finds reasonable grounds exist that demonstrate that there has been abuse or family violence, or that a risk of such exists, no compulsory family dispute resolution is required. The court will not force parties to attempt to achieve a resolution to their child-related issues if there is any history or threat of violence.

3. Contravention of Previous Order

A party can make an application to the court regarding “particular” child related issue, without attending dispute resolution, if there is already an order in place addressing said issue. For instance, if there is already an order in place setting forth a custodial schedule for the child, and one party is not abiding by the order, the complying party may apply directly to the court to seek enforcement of the order. If there is already an order in place, there is no need to utilize dispute resolution services to try and reach an agreement.

4. Application is Urgent

Sometimes a parent will have to make an urgent application to the court about a child related issue. An example of this would be if a parent intended to relocate and take the child with them, in a situation like that the parties would need to have the issue addressed by the judge as soon as possible, spending time at family dispute resolution would simply slow the process down.

5. Incapacity

If a party lacks the capacity, physically or otherwise to attend family dispute resolution, the court will not enforce their attendance. For instance, if a party is unable to participate effectively because they live in another country, an application regarding a child related issue could be made directly to the court even if no family dispute resolution has taken place. The rationale for this exception is that compelling attendance would be largely inconvenient; a party could make sacrifices to travel and attend dispute resolution only to not reach an agreement and have to subsequently travel again for litigation.

6. Other Circumstances

The final exception category is a catchall. If there is another reason set forth in the regulations that would allow parties to bypass family dispute resolution, that reason will suffice and allow parties to bypass compulsory dispute resolution.

The bottom line is, unless your situation qualifies for one of these enumerated exceptions, you should be prepared to attend family dispute resolution prior to making an application to the court to determine custody or other child related issues.

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Do I have to Attend FDR Mediation

Legal Capacity and Family Law

As the issue of mental health continues to gain more traction within the area of Family Law, at a practical level, and without holding the necessary expert qualifications required to properly identify and diagnose mental health conditions, at what point does a practitioner (legal or otherwise) determine if a client has the capacity to provide appropriate instructions?

Justice Power in PY v RJS & Others outlines the general legal test for capacity as follows:

  • Generally, a person is not shown to be incapable of managing his or her own affairs unless it can be shown otherwise. That is, a person is presumed to have legal capacity unless the following characteristics can be observed:
  • That he or she appears incapable of dealing, in a reasonable competent fashion, with the ordinary routine affairs of man and
  • That, by reason of that lack of competence, there is shown to be a real risk that either:
    • He or she may be disadvantaged in the conduct of such affairs or
    • That such monies or property which he or she may possess may be dissipated or lost.
  • It is not sufficient, merely to demonstrate that the person lacks the high level of ability needed to deal with complicated transactions or that the person does not deal with even simple routine transactions in the most efficient manner. That is, the person must understand the purpose of the transactions that they are carrying out in everyday life.

The “Client Capacity Sub-Committee” of the New South Wales Law Society has developed guidelines to assist practitioners concerned about the competency of their client to give proper instructions.  By way of summary, practitioners should be wary of the following:

  • Are you as the practitioner able to obtain proper instructions from your client after you have provided a brief summary / explanation of likely issues to them?
  • If your client has a diagnosable illness, is it likely to be a temporary or permanent impairment? If it is temporary or medication based, think about different ways in which you might obtain instructions (i.e. taking frequent breaks in conference, drawing diagrams).
  • If the issues needing clarification are minor and short term, can a friend or relative assist the client with providing instructions which are in the client’s best interests?
  • Will the client consent to a formal assessment of capacity by a specialist professional?
  • Should you as the practitioner cease to act? If at any time the practitioner has become the substitute decision-maker, he or she should make immediate arrangements to have a substitute instruction giver appointed.

Subject to any specialist evaluation of the client’s legal capacity, or should it be the case the matter is already in Court, it may be appropriate to appoint a “Case Guardian”.  This process involves filing an Application with the Court pursuant to rule 6.08 of the Family Law Rules 2004 together with an Affidavit in support containing the relevant evidence (i.e. short report from the client’s treating specialist regarding the client’s mental health and likely duration of any diagnosable condition).