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Family dispute resolution

Family dispute resolution

What is family dispute resolution (FDR) in family law?

Family dispute resolution (FDR) is a process involving you and your former partner meeting with a family dispute resolution practitioner (FDRP) to try to sort out your family law issues. These issues might include who your children will live with, who they will spend time with and other matters such as what school the children will attend. FDRPs may also be able to assist you and your former partner to discuss arrangements for property and finances. FDR can help separating or separated couples to reach an agreement without having to go to court.

What happens in FDR?

FDR usually takes the form of a mediation, where the FDRP acts as an independent third party assisting discussions between you and your former partner. Usually the FDRP will have a separate meeting with each person before the actual mediation, giving everyone involved an opportunity to think about which issues they would like to discuss at the mediation. The FDRP will not tell you what to do, but will assist you and your former partner to talk about the important issues and hopefully come to an agreement.

Do I need to get legal advice before going to FDR?

It is recommended that you get independent legal advice before participating in FDR, and before signing any written agreements. FDRPs cannot give legal advice.

Does everyone have to go to FDR?

Yes, if you intend to make an application to the Family Court for parenting orders (including to change existing parenting orders) you must attend FDR and obtain an FDR Certificate before making your application to the court, unless you fall within one of the following exceptions.

The exceptions are:

  • You are filing consent orders 
  • The court can be satisfied that there:
    • has been or is a risk of child abuse
    • has been or is a risk of family violence
  • You are responding to another person's (such as your ex-partner's) application for parenting orders
  • Your application is about contravention of a parenting order that was made less than 12 months ago and the behaviour of the other party shows serious disregard for those orders
  • Your case is so urgent that you should not need to attend FDR and get an FDR Certificate
  • You are unable to participate effectively in FDR, for example, because you live in a remote area or you are incapable of participating in FDR for some other reason, such as where an interpreter is needed and there are none available.

Some people living in remote areas may not have to participate in FDR if there are no services in their area. Sometimes FDR may be available to people in remote areas via telephone or video link.

You should get legal advice about whether you fall within one of the exceptions.

Even if you did not have to go to FDR before you started your case in court because your case fell within one of the exceptions, once you start your case, the court may still order you to go to FDR.

Please note: There is no requirement for you to go to FDR if you only want to resolve property or financial issues. However, mediation can be a useful process to help couples to resolve these sorts of disputes. There are other requirements before you start a case for property settlement in the Family Court, as well as particular requirements about dispute resolution if you and the other person are both legally represented. For more information, see Before you go to court - property.

If you would like information on dispute resolution in child support matters, see Child support and child maintenance and Proving parentage.

Are the things I say at the FDR Conference kept private?

Generally the things you say to an FDR practitioner in an FDR Conference cannot be told to anyone else, including the court. They must be kept private and confidential.

There are some exceptions to this. They are:

  • If the FDR practitioner has to tell the information to someone because of a particular law
  • If you agree (give your consent) for the FDR practitioner to tell someone else the information
  • If it is necessary to protect a child from the risk of physical or psychological harm
  • If it is necessary to protect a person from a threat to their life or health
  • If it is necessary to protect a child or other person from violence or threatened violence
  • If it is necessary to protect property, including where a crime might be committed which will cause damage to property, or where property has already been criminally damaged
  • Where the information is necessary for research into families (this does not include your personal identifying information, which will be kept private)
  • In order to prepare an FDR Certificate for the Family Court.

Although an FDR practitioner may need to tell any of these things to another person, none of this information can be used in court, except where an adult or child has said that a child has been abused or is at risk of being abused.

Talking to an FDR practitioner is different from talking to a family consultant in the Family Court. If your case goes to court and you attend a case assessment conference with a family consultant, anything you tell the family consultant will be told to the court.

Where can I go for FDR?

Family Relationship Centres offer FDR. There are Family Relationship Centres located in the Perth metropolitan and regional areas. Visit the Family Relationships Online website for a full list or call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 to find the centre closest to you.

Legal Aid WA offers a dispute resolution program similar to a mediation at a Family Relationship Centre, but where each person has a lawyer to provide legal advice and to assist them through the process. Call the Legal Aid WA Infoline on 1300 650 579 for more information and to see if you may be eligible for this program.

Other agencies and individuals also provide FDR. You can use the Family Dispute Resolution Register to find an FDRP. Please note that private FDRPs, including those who are qualified as lawyers, generally charge a fee for their service. You should check their rates before you proceed.

What do I do after attending FDR?

If you reach an agreement through FDR you can formalise it by including it in an application for consent orders (orders by agreement) and then filing the application with the Family Court. Alternatively, you could include the agreement in a parenting plan. To find out more about the differences between parenting plans and parenting orders, see Parenting orders and Parenting plans.

If you have not been able to reach an agreement through FDR, you can continue to try other dispute resolution methods. See Other ways to resolve a family law dispute for more information. If you decide your next step will be to make an application to the Family Court for parenting orders, you need to ask your FDR practitioner for an FDR Certificate.

What happens if I do not go to FDR?

If you do not attempt to go to FDR and get an FDR Certificate, then the court will not accept your application for parenting orders (including one to change current parenting orders) for filing, unless you fall under one of the exceptions.

If one of the exceptions applies to you, then instead of filing an FDR Certificate, you will need to file an Exemption form. Sometimes you need to file other documents too, depending on the exception you fall under. You should get legal advice if you think there is a reason why you cannot attend FDR. See above under Does everyone have to go to FDR?

 Where can I get more information?

  • Go to the When Separating website. Here you will find short films about family law and other helpful information and links for families experiencing separation

Last reviewed: 22/10/2012

Last modified: 7/10/2015 5:10 PM


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.