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Family Dispute Resolution
Family Dispute Resolution represents a real opportunity for parents to identify their needs and those of their children and to negotiate with each other to achieve lasting, beneficial arrangements. Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), like most things, requires preparation to get the most from it.
How will the Family Dispute Conference Proceed?
At the beginning of the Conference both parents are usually asked:
- What their children need from their parents
- What issues need to be discussed and, hopefully, resolved
- What arrangements each parent thinks would best addressed those needs and issues.
As the issues discussed at FDR are determined by parents it is very important that both parents come prepared knowing what issues they want and need to discuss. Once each parent has identified the issues they want to discuss a list of issues or agenda will be developed. This will form the focus of the Conference as each issue is discussed and explored to find options that will meet the needs of all concerned. As each issue is discussed it is important that both parents have a clear idea of the things that are important to them and to their children.
Don’t I need to know what I want?
Mediation is very concerned to avoid positionality. Positionality is about a parent being inflexible in negotiating and considering the position they prefer as being “not negotiable”. This means you are not open to other options.
Whilst it is important to arrive at mediation with a clear idea of what an ideal future would look like it is even more important to have a clear idea of why that arrangement is seen by you as being the best way of delivering what you and your children need. Family Dispute Resolution is also intended to have an educative element and to encourage parents to think about what law and psychology might add to their discussion. This is intended to help parents identify, focus on and prioritise their children’s needs.
How should I prepare?
To broaden discussion and to move beyond positions it is generally helpful if parents can reflect their role as parents and ponder questions such as:
- What kind of parent do I want to be?
- What kind of parent do I want my former partner to be?
- What do I need to be the best parent I can be?
- What do I need from my former partner to be the parent I want to be and what do they need from me?
- What kind of childhood do I want my children to have and what do they need for that to become a reality (and what don’t they need?)?
Consider the practical realities of what time you can spend with your child/ren and what you can do to deal with any problems (eg your work hours and when you’re available, how you will get your child/ren to school and who can help?);
Consider the developmental needs of your child/ren. This may relate to their specific needs or may be a consideration of age appropriate arrangements;
Read as widely as you can regarding questions such as:
- “when should overnight visits start?”
- “what are age appropriate contact arrangements?”
- “how do children develop attachments and relationships?”
- “building relationships with infants”
Get legal advice and be very aware of the relevant parts of the Family Law Act such as:
- s.60CA – which talks about the paramouncy principle (“the best interests of children are the paramount consideration”)
- s.60B - the objects section of the Act setting out the things the law expects parents to try and achieve
- s.61DA – the presumption of joint equal parental responsibility.
Remember, the law has no presumptions about time but has a focus on parents sharing responsibility for their children;
- s.65DAA – setting out the desirability of considering equal time and substantial time. The definitions of time are helpful to understand how sharing responsibility might work and might benefit children;
- s.60CC – dealing with determining a child’s best interests;
Consider the law and the fact that it is intended to apply to and guide parents;
Don’t be overly concerned with how the Court might apply the law to your circumstances - you are not going to Court and this is your opportunity to find arrangements that are tailored to your needs and your children’s rather than to do what other people, who couldn’t agree, were told by the Court to do! Most importantly attend FDR willing to listen to what others say and to put yourself into your ex-partner’s shoes and, very importantly, see the world through your child’s eyes. Remember children expect and need their parents to parent them. Use mediation as an opportunity to co-operatively parent by agreeing.