Family Dispute Resolution (FDR)

The Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Program provides dispute resolution services in the form of conferences, chaired by an impartial third party, with the aim of resolving family law disputes out of court. Conferences are 'shuttle conciliation' in style and chaired by lawyers with expertise in family law.

For more information on FDR Conferences, download our factsheet

Click on each heading below to expand the information box. 

What is FDR?

FDR is an alternative to court proceedings for separated couples who need help to resolve issues concerning the breakdown of their family relationships.

Why should I use FDR?

FDR is usually compulsory. It allows parents to determine future arrangements for their children as opposed to the court. Going to court is expensive, disruptive, takes a long time, and can cause further damage to family relationships. Orders imposed by a judge rarely suit everyone.

How can FDR help me?

We offer lawyer-assisted FDR that helps you:

  • obtain important legal advice
  • identify and discuss all relevant issues concerning your children and financial matters
  • reach agreements that are child focussed in that they provide secure, safe and appropriate care arrangements for your children
  • draft parenting plans or legally binding consent orders that reflect agreements about children and financial matters

Who can use FDR?

At least one party must have a grant of legal assistance from Legal Aid ACT. The other parties might be self-represented, or privately represented. You can also use FDR if all the parties are privately represented, but there is an Independent Children's Lawyer (ICL) appointed by the Court and funded by Legal Aid ACT.

For more information speak to your lawyer or see Funding Cases.

How much does FDR cost?

FDR is free for those on a grant of legal assistance from Legal Aid ACT (subject to any contribution you might have to pay.)

If you are privately represented you will need to pay for your lawyer's fees. If it is assessed as appropriate, you may use FDR without a lawyer. However, in most cases we prefer parties to be legally represented. We can also help you find a lawyer. 

If you can't afford a lawyer, you can apply for a grant of legal assistance

How does FDR work?

There is an intake and assessment process for FDR in relation to new matters that have never been to Court, and for matters that are currently in court proceedings.

Our FDR staff will contact you (if you are self-represented) or your lawyer (if you are legally represented) to assess whether FDR is appropriate in your circumstances. If it is, your lawyer will help you prepare for the FDR conference. If you are self-represented you may contact our FDR staff for assistance in preparing for the conference.

The conference is convened by an experienced chairperson whose role is to assist the parties and their lawyers to reach an agreement. If an interim agreement is reached and a second conference is needed to finalise your matter, this can be arranged. Our FDR staff may also refer you to other agencies for specialised support if you need it (e.g., counselling and other family services).

Are children involved in FDR?

FDR is child focused and any agreements made must be in the best interests of a child. However, children can't attend the conference.

If appropriate, and everyone agrees, FDR may be able to arrange for children to speak with a qualified child consultant who will provide feedback to parents about how children are coping with family separation. Sometimes during FDR, parties agree to participate in an expert report. This is where the parties and the children are interviewed by an expert (usually a psychologist) and a report is prepared that makes recommendations about care arrangements. Speak to our FDR Manager or your lawyer for more information.

Is the conference confidential?

Any information you give is confidential and can't be used in Court. It is a serious offence to disclose confidential information and penalties apply.

This rule does not apply where the FDR manager:

  • is concerned for a child's welfare
  • forms a reasonable belief that a person or property is at risk
  • becomes aware of possible fraud or a criminal act.

What if I don't feel safe?

We make sure the conference takes place in a safe environment. For example, we place parties in separate rooms; we can arrange separate arrival and departure times and, if appropriate, parties may attend FDR via telephone conference. You do not have to have contact with the other person unless you want to. Tell us if you are worried about your safety.

Where can I attend a conference?

Conferences are held in the Civic office of Legal Aid ACT. If one or both parties live away from the ACT region we can arrange for parties to attend by telephone from anywhere in Australia. Call us to find out how we can help you.