Family Dispute Resolution (FDR)

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) may be able to help you and your ex-partner reach an agreement about arrangements for children and dividing property after separation. It can also be used when there are family law disputes with other family members (like grandparents or in-laws) spending time with the children, even if you and your partner have not separated.

In most cases the law requires you to try FDR first before starting a case in the Family Court of WA or a local regional Magistrates Court for orders about children. 

You will have to give the court a certificate, signed by a FDR Practitioner, to show you tried FDR. Without a certificate, the court will not accept your application for parenting orders. 

There are some exemptions to this, including when there has been or is a risk of family violence or child abuse.

What is Family Dispute Resolution?

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a type of mediation that involves people meeting together with a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDR Practitioner) to try and reach an agreement about family law issues.

FDR Practitioners have had special training to support separated families work out their family law disputes. In relation to disputes about a child the FDR Practitioner will help parents (or other caregivers) to focus on the best interests of their child.

Some examples of issues you can try to resolve at an FDR conference include: 

  • how decisions will be made about your child
  • care arrangements for your child including who they will live with and how much time they will spend with their parents and other important people in their lives
  • other matters about how your child will be raised, such as what school they will go to, and
  • how property and finances will be divided.

New Strength-to-Strength conferencing program 

Strength-to-Strength is a new conferencing program at the Legal Aid WA's Dispute Resolution Unit. The Strength-to-Strength model is designed to provide families who are experiencing disadvantage with the best opportunity to engage in FDR and work together towards safe outcomes. 

To be eligible for the conferencing program families need to have a current case in the Family Court of WA. Families can be referred to the program by the Family Court of WA, community support services or lawyers. You can also contact Legal Aid WA directly to see if your case is suitable for the program.

The program is suitable for families who are experiencing disadvantage or who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons (for example, experiencing family violence, mental health issues, disability, drug or alcohol dependence, literacy issues, whose first language is not English). The program can help with both children and property matters.  

For more information see, Flyer - Strength to Strength

What happens in FDR?

In a FDR conference, the FDR Practitioner helps you to discuss issues with your ex-partner (or another person involved in the dispute). As the FDR Practitioner is independent and must remain impartial; they cannot give you legal advice or tell you what you should do.

The FDR process involves:

  • identifying the issues
  • listening to each other's concerns
  • sharing all the relevant information
  • considering all ideas and options
  • talking through possible solutions, and
  • being ready to compromise.
Are the things we talk about in FDR kept private?

What is said in FDR is private and confidential. The FDR Practitioner, people who attend, and their lawyers cannot tell anyone (including the court) what was said during the conference. However, there are some exceptions, including if it is necessary to protect:

  • a child from the risk of physical or psychological harm
  • a person from a threat to their life or health, or
  • property from deliberate damage or destruction.

Things that are said to or in front of the FDR Practitioner cannot normally be used as evidence in the Family Court, unless it is necessary to give evidence that there has been or is a risk of child abuse.

What happens if we reach an agreement in FDR?

If you and your ex-partner (or another person involved in the dispute) reach an agreement at an FDR conference you can:

  • enter into a parenting plan, or
  • formalise the agreement by filing an application for consent orders with the court.

For information about parenting plans and consent orders about children see, Infosheet - Making arrangements for children

For information about formalising a property agreement with consent orders, see, Video and Fact Sheet - Property Settlement: Consent Orders.  

What happens if we don't reach an agreement in FDR about our child? 

If you can’t reach an agreement about arrangements for your child at a FDR conference, you can ask for a FDR Certificate to show you tried FDR. You and your ex-partner (or another person involved in the dispute who attended the conference) can then apply to the Family Court for orders about your child. You should get legal advice before filing an application with the Family Court.   

When can a FDR Practitioner grant a FDR Certificate?

A FDR Practitioner can grant a FDR Certificate in the following situations:

  • your ex-partner (or another person involved in the dispute) refuses or fails to attend a FDR conference
  • the FDR Practitioner believes it is not appropriate to start or continue with FDR, because of family violence, a risk of child abuse, or problems with the power and relationship dynamics, or
  • you both attend FDR, but someone doesn’t make a genuine effort to reach agreement in FDR (in this situation the court might order you to try FDR again and failing to give a genuine effort in FDR may effect how the court makes decisions about legal costs).

Reviewed: 3 March 2022

Disclaimer

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.