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Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution

Vlog Transcript

Hi, I’m Vanessa Mathews from Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists, and today we’ll be discussing mediation.

Many couples facing the end of their marriage feel confused about how to resolve the many issues that come up. Well-meaning friends and relatives might recommend running to an aggressive lawyer who can help you battle out in court, but I want to use this video to tell you about different ways of solving your problems that can help everyone to feel that they were treated fairly and with respect.

You and your spouse have the ability to choose how you will go about reaching an agreement. Despite what you may have heard from sensational articles in the media or even through friends, most family disagreements in Australia end with a settlement. This means that most couples do not go to court to work out child custody issues, property division, or maintenance. They sit down together, sometimes with the help of professionals, and work through the problem.

Mediation is an alternative approach to resolving disagreements between couples. In Australia, it’s frequently used for figuring out property issues, and it’s also used for parenting disputes. Rather than going to court and have a judge determine how best to solve your problems, mediation allows you to control the process and the outcome.

So how does mediation work? A third neutral and objective person serves as a mediator whose role is to facilitate communication between you and your spouse to help you reach an agreement that you’re both comfortable with. The mediator helps you figure out what your interests are, what your actual needs are, and what is fair to everyone.

There are many benefits to mediation. One is that you’re involved in the process and the final decision. If you don’t like the way the process is going, you can say so and even leave the mediation. You’re in control. No judge makes a final ruling for you that you might not like. You have the right to accept or reject any agreement. Another benefit of mediation is that it gives you a lot of flexibility.

Together with the mediator and your partner, you set up times for meetings. This means you don’t have to miss work or find babysitters, or be controlled by court dates. The settings for mediation is also much more comfortable: usually in the mediator’s office and definitely not in a courtroom. Mediation is usually much shorter than going to court, limiting the time to weeks or just a few months.

When it comes to parenting issues, family dispute resolution, or FDR, is a very good option. This is a type of mediation that’s required by the courts when parents can’t come to an agreement on their own. These mediators are trained in the area of family disputes, and they usually have a background in law, social work, or psychology. They help couples figure out what’s best for their children. If you and your partner can work out a parenting plan on your own, that’s great. If you can’t, and you need to go to court to get a judge to decide, you first have to attend FDR and show the court you’ve both a good effort to resolve your problems.

I often recommend to clients to get legal advice when you’re in mediation, and I would recommend that you do have a lawyer. The lawyer’s role is to make sure you know your legal rights and obligations, and to help you understand the legal consequences of the decisions that you make in the mediation.

Sometimes lawyers actually attend the mediation sessions if both sides agree. It’s helpful to have a lawyer in mediation because sometimes there is a power imbalance between you and your spouse where one is stronger, or louder, or takes advantage of the other. Having a lawyer there can help balance the sides. But even if you don’t have a lawyer with you, you have the right to call your lawyer, or anyone else, to ask questions. Mediation agreements reached without each of you understanding your legal rights can result in failed negotiations or even broken agreements.

If you have more questions about mediation or family dispute resolution, or want to learn more about them, you can take a look at our other videos and at our website, or feel free to call me. I’m Vanessa Mathews at Mathews Family Law & Mediation Specialists.

Could family counseling work for me?

If you think there is a chance of reconciliation, you may be eager to attempt family counselling to work out your problems with your former spouse. But what if the damage is already done, and you are not interested in reconciliation? Should you still consider some type of family counselling?

Often, couples with no intention of getting back together, still find family counselling to be beneficial. Counselling may help you cope with the changes brought on by a separation or divorce, and can also be help you to understand and address any issues your children may be experiencing because of the breakup. Counselling helps you explore hurt feelings, unresolved issues in your relationship, new living situations, and financial adjustments. So, even if you have no intention of reconciliation, counselling still may be helpful as you experience a breakup.

Alternatively, you may in fact be hoping for reconciliation. Or, you may have an otherwise steady relationship, but you and your partner have been fighting more than normal. If find yourself concerned because of recent and atypical fighting that is occurring in your relationship, or other problems have arisen, counselling may be just what you and your partner need to get through a rough patch in your relationship. Counselling can help you get to the root of the problems in your relationship, and help you cope with new challenges as your life together evolves.

If you don’t think that counselling is necessary for you, it still may be something your child could really benefit from. Even if your child seems resilient and undaunted by your divorce or separation, she could be experiencing emotional issues that can manifest later. Addressing these feelings timely can save your child much emotional heartache and result in healthier relationships between your child and yourself as well as your former partner.

If you are interested in counselling, you may find a private practitioner who is qualified to serve as a counsellor for you, or you may take advantage of government sanctioned community based organizations as well. Don’t let money be an excuse to not take advantage of counselling; there are government resources available that make adjustments to the costs of counselling if you are on a low income or experiencing financial struggles.

If you have further questions about family counselling, you can always contact the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321, visit www.familyrelationships.gov.au, or seek advice from one of the knowledgeable lawyers at Matthews Family Law.

Family Law Alternatives to Dispute Resolution

The family courts in Australia recognize the limits of an adversarial system, in which sides come to a judge, armed with aggressive lawyers, to let someone else determine their future. Rather than encouraging people – many of whom were married to each other for years, raised children together and made difficult life-changing decisions together – to discuss the issues with each other when there is a problem, it encourages them to do battle against one another, make the other person suffer, and take as much as they can. There is no balance between the carrot and the stick – there is only a stick, no carrot.

Family law in Australia does, however, offer alternatives to the traditional court approach. Many couples, after first trying to resolve their dispute on their own, now turn to mediation. Mediation generally takes place between the husband and wife or de facto partners, sometimes with their lawyers at their sides (if both sides agree) and is led by a trained, neutral mediator. Mediators may be lawyers themselves, but also come from backgrounds in social work and family therapy. The mediator helps the sides define their interests and what is important to them, manages the discussion between the sides and helps them come to a resolution.

The mediator’s responsibility is to assist the sides in resolving the problem in the best way possible for everyone. This means looking at the whole picture – the children, the ability of the sides to continue working together in the best interests of the children, ensuring that everyone can stand on their feet economically – and not just at the individual desires or demands of one particular side. It’s not an easy task for the mediator and it’s even more difficult to bring the sides to this larger understanding. The mediator does not serve as a judge, making a final ruling. The final agreement must come voluntarily from the two parties.

In certain family disputes in Australia, couples, both married and de facto, are required to attend Family Dispute Mediation. Trained practitioners in the field of family disputes, with professional backgrounds in the fields of law, social work and psychology work with a separating couple to help them through the process. These practitioners will advise the couple on best practices for the good of the children. Family Dispute Mediation is required before parents apply for parenting orders from an Australian court. Parents attending this type of mediation receive a certificate which must be submitted to the court before parenting orders will be given. There are exceptions to this requirement, however, such as urgency, domestic abuse or mental illness.

Vanessa Mathews is a family law specialist and mediator and an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner. Mathews Family law also provides the full range of dispute resolution options, including lawyer-led negotiations and arbitration.

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.

Do I have to attend family dispute resolution before I go to court about my children?

Unless your case involves family violence, child abuse or is urgent, family dispute resolution is required before court proceedings about children can commence.

What happens if we go to Court?

The Court will usually appoint a family consultant to assist and advise parties.

The Court must consider the needs of the child and the impact of the proceedings on the child. The Court must conduct the proceedings so that the child is safeguarded from family violence and abuse. The proceedings should intend to promote cooperative and child focused parenting and should avoid delay and formality.