Ruby wanted to discuss concerns she had about the care of her 10-year-old daughter with the girl’s father.
Ruby arranged a Family Dispute Resolution Conference through her local Family Relationships Centre to discuss things, but her child’s father failed to attend. Instead, the father arranged for his own solicitor to draft a parenting plan and sent that to Ruby.
Family law and dispute resolution
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) compels separated parents with children to make a genuine effort to resolve disputes by family dispute resolution before applying to the courts for an order (s 60I(1) Family Law Act). Parties must:
- participate in negotiations, conciliation, mediation, arbitration or counselling
- comply with their duty of disclosing relevant facts, reports and concerns.
Family relationship centres are dispute resolution forums, and their purpose is to give parents a place to go to discuss the needs of their children and agree on parenting arrangements without going to court. Dispute resolution practitioners are independent of all the parties (s 10F Family Law Act). The centres provide information, advice, dispute resolution and other relevant services. They do not provide legal advice.
The first hour of dispute resolution is provided free of charge (or low cost) to give parties the opportunity to come up with a parenting plan. Further dispute resolution assistance and other services are provided either free of charge or at a cost that is determined by each centre and usually based on the client’s income. A national Family Relationship Advice Line exists to offer both legal and non-legal advice.
The benefit of legal advice
Ruby had never received family law advice. She felt overwhelmed that the father had a solicitor and did not trust that there would be a negotiated resolution. She was poised to bring Court proceedings.
Fortunately, Ruby booked in to receive family law advice from Caxton Legal Centre. Ruby’s concerns were addressed. The draft parenting plan was able to be progressed. Timely and affordable legal advice (in this case free because Ruby was in receipt of a disability support pension) is critical to avoiding family law disputes escalating unnecessarily to court.