What to expect during family & divorce mediation

Family & divorce mediation can be an excellent way of resolving a dispute outside of the courtroom. This makes it a potentially much cheaper and less stressful method of handling family issues.

This article covers all the information you need to know about what mediation is and what the process involves.

What mediation is

Mediation can be informal or formal. Informally it might involve simply chatting to your family about your concerns in order to deal with them. Formally, it involves having an accredited, neutral third party overseeing the process and helping you reach a solution.

A dispute could range from affecting a couple to even extended family members – it may be simple or time consuming depending on the particular issue and how many people are involved.

If mediation is not effective at resolving the dispute, the issue may be taken to court and a judge left to make a decision. But ideally, the aim is to resolve the issue before it reaches this point – typically by using mediation.

In fact, the court often requires families to create their own agreements and attempt mediation before seeing them officially.

Your options

With the goal of mediation being to help all parties come to a mutual agreement, there are several ways you can approach it:

  • An informal discussion between parents/the parties
  • Having a family member or friend oversee the discussion
  • General mediation
  • Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) – this is a mediation process which is covered by the Family Law Act 1975.

More on Family Dispute Resolution

The end of a relationship can be particularly challenging when property and children are involved, as it requires both parties to come to a mutual decision regarding the division of assets and how much time each parent will spend with their children. Often people facing these issues use FDR, a formal mediation process which involves working with an accredited practitioner.

This form of mediation has high success rates – around 70%. This is likely due to the fact that it is uniquely designed to cater to family disputes. The process involves having an open discussion with all involved parties in the presence of a professional mediator. These mediators are trained in negotiation and mediation and specialise in family matters. They do not take sides – they neutrally encourage each party to speak up about their concerns and help to create a safe, supportive environment.

FDR is a low cost, practical way to help families deal with disputes such as parenting arrangements and asset division with professional guidance. It is also compulsory to attempt FDR before applying to the court for parenting orders, unless:

  • Child abuse or family violence is involved
  • You are making an agreement formal via consent orders
  • You are responding to a court application
  • A party cannot participate or has seriously disregarded a court order in the past 12 months; or
  • There is some other urgent issue.

Where to access FDR

You can access FDR at a range of government-funded facilities such as:

  • Legal aid commissions
  • Family centres
  • Other community-centric family services
  • Local mediators – here

You can also access FDR privately (at a cost, usually) or find out more via the Family Relationship Advice Line.

How long it takes

The length of time mediation takes depends on how complex your circumstances are; it generally ranges from several hours to several days. Agreements are generally made quicker if all parties involved are committed to putting the interests of any children involved first and foremost.

How much it costs

FDR is significantly cheaper than going to court. The cost paid depends on your chosen provider and the exact service requested. Private businesses set their own prices, which can vary. Community-based centres have a standard price policy which is based on income levels. Most families can receive one free hour of FDR, for instance, and then those who earn over $50,000 annually will be charged $30 per hour whilst those who earn less or receive social security benefits may get additional free support.


FDR is confidential, except in circumstances where there is a threat to someone’s safety or in the event of a crime. Otherwise, anything said throughout the mediation process can’t be used as court evidence.

FDR versus counselling

FDR is not the same as counselling. It doesn’t focus on resolving emotional matters; rather it focuses on dealing with specific disputes. If you require emotional support, you may want to see a counsellor in addition or prior to using FDR services. You may also consider using family counselling, too.

What happens after an agreement is reached

If FDR is successful, you can record the agreement in writing as a parenting plan. This must be signed and dated by each parent. This plan may be renegotiated later on if needed.

What happens if an agreement cannot be made

If you cannot resolve your dispute using FDR, your accredited family & divorce mediation practitioner may give you a certificate allowing for an application to the family law court to be made. This is known as a ‘Section 60I certificate’. This may also be provided in the event of family violence or abuse cases.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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