LifeWorks Relationship Counselling and Education Services.
1300 543 396

LifeWorks is a not for profit organisation that provides family, couple and individual
counselling, education, training and workplace services in Victoria Australia.

Frequently Asked Questions About Family Dispute Resolution

Q. Why should we use Family Dispute Resolution (FDR)?

A. Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) or mediation is a voluntary and co-operative process allowing both people to discuss and decide on decisions, whether that is concerning children and/or financial and property settlement.

Solutions are negotiated and self-determined, and can encourage co-operation and improve communication.  In relation to childrenís arrangements, parents , who best know their children, can negotiate and make
agreements where possible.

The process is cost effective, and is generally less stressful and traumatic than Court proceedings.

All services provided are private and confidential. Impartial, experienced and accredited FDR Practitioners assist in providing sessions, which are held in a safe and neutral environment, at times that are mutually convenient.

Q. When is the best time to engage in FDR?

A. There is no one 'best time' that suits all people and all situations. Separation can be an emotionally charged time for all concerned and it is usually appropriate to allow some of those emotions to settle before using the dispute resolution process.

However, sometimes decisions on arrangements for children need to be made soon after separation. In those cases it could be appropriate to use FDR to make some interim arrangements, with a plan to return to FDR to make longer term plans.

If you are unsure about the timing, you are still welcome to come to the initial individual appointment, where the timing can be further discussed.

Q. When is FDR suitable?

A. FDR is suitable when an assessment, within the guidelines of the Family Law Act 1975, has been made that both people can:

  • communicate their perspective on the identified issues (e.g. children, or financial and property matters), 
  • freely negotiate with each other, and
  • that there are no abuse or safety issues (see next question).

If the assessment, often referred to as an intake interview, determines positively for these aspects then an appointment for an FDR session will be offered.

Q. When is FDR not suitable?

A. FDR may not be suitable when there is:

  • allegations of child abuse or family violence
  • a power imbalance between the participants
  • an inability by one or both people to communicate their needs or perspectives, or to work rationally in sessions
  • an inability to negotiate freely
  • people don't abide by the FDR guidelines (of speaking respectfully, not interrupting and allowing each person to have an equal say).

Q. Are discussions in FDR confidential?

A. All discussions that take place within the individual intake sessions for both people, or in joint FDR sessions, or privately with a LifeWorks FDR Practitioner, are confidential and cannot be used as evidence in Court, except in certain circumstances such as child abuse or to prevent a threat to someone's life.

Q. Where are the sessions conducted?

A. LifeWorks provides FDR in our Melbourne City, Wyndham, Frankston and Geelong offices.  In each of these offices we offer a confidential, safe and neutral environment for negotiations to occur. 

Melbourne, Level 4, 255 Bourke Street, Melbourne.T 8650 6200

Wyndham, 1 Johnson Avenue, Hoppers Crossing. T 9974 3200

Frankston, 345 Nepean Highway, Frankston. T 9783 7611

Geelong, 38 Myers Street, Geelong. T 5222 3172

Q. How long do the sessions take?

A. The initial individual appointment usually takes one and a half hours.  

Once assessment for suitability has occurred, joint sessions are typically two to three hours. All sessions are provided at a time that is suitable to you.

Q. How many sessions are needed?

A. This is an entirely individual situation, and will depend on how many issues have been mutually identified by yourself and your ex-partner that need to be discussed and resolved. 

In addition, it will depend on the participantsí views on the issues, how close or how different the views are, and therefore how much discussion time is needed.

Q. Are children involved in the FDR process?

A. Once joint FDR sessions have begun with parents, a Child Inclusive Practice (CIP) service may be offered. 

Child Inclusive Practice is designed to enhance collaboration between parents and keep the best interests of children as the main focus. It also helps separated parents develop co-operative parenting strategies for the future.It provides an opportunity for children and young people to talk independently with a trained Child Consultant, who later provides feedback and recommendations to the parents. 

This is an optional service and any information from this service is not admissible in court.

Q. What do I need to bring to the sessions?

A. For children's matters a sample parenting plan is provided (for your information and use) at the initial individual appointment. We suggest you use this plan to consider what you need to discuss in relation to your children, write notes on the sample plan and bring this to the joint session. You may also need to bring along other information that may impact on decisions on your childrenís arrangements, such as your work roster, timetables for sporting and other activities for the children, or other important dates (e.g. family events).

For financial and property settlement, a Financial Checklist is provided at the initial individual appointment. We suggest you use this to list asset and liability information, including valuations. We then suggest you bring this completed checklist to the joint session, together with any other relevant financial documentation.

Q. Can I bring someone else to the FDR session?

A. It may be possible during the initial individual appointment, for a support person (family, friend or support worker) to accompany you. However, you will be encouraged, and it would be expected, that you talk about the issues and your views on how the issues can be resolved.

It is normal practice that only the parents attend the FDR session to discuss childrenís arrangements and only the separated people attend for FDR sessions for financial/property matters. There are sometimes exceptional circumstances where others may attend, e.g. a translator.

Q. Do we have to be in the same room for the sessions?

This can be discussed at your initial individual appointment. Encouragement and support will be given to at least start the joint session in the same room as your ex-partner. As it is important for separated parents to work co-operatively with each other on behalf of their children, often a FDR session can be a safe place to practice being together, and working on safe and respectful communication techniques.

Sometimes, LifeWorks offers 'shuttle mediation', which means you are provided with a separate room and the Practitioner goes between the two rooms to conduct the FDR session. Sometimes this offers comfort to both people and they feel they can better negotiate outcomes without having to deal more immediately with their ex-partner.

Q. What happens after the sessions are completed?

A. If agreements have been reached during the FDR session that have been documented (usually on the electronic whiteboard), these are printed out at the end of the session.  Each person is invited to sign and date the copies, to enable these agreements to be recognised by a court, or by the Child Support Agency.

These agreements are not legally binding, however steps can be taken after the FDR process is completed to make them legally binding.  This involves the completion of a Consent Order, which can be achieved with or without legal support.  More information about this is provided at the FDR session.

For childrenís arrangements, agreements often include the acknowledgement that a review will be appropriate as your childrenís needs change.  This may involve you and the other parent returning for further FDR sessions in the future.

Q. If I am involved in FDR, do I still need legal advice?

A. Yes. FDR Practitioners do not provide legal advice as they are not legal practitioners. It is suggested that you consider seeking legal advice before, during and after FDR. Information on obtaining legal advice is given in your initial individual appointment to services such as: 

  • Victorian Legal Aid
  • Victorian Community Legal Services
  • Victorian Womenís Legal Service 
  • The Law Institute of Victoria (who can refer you to a private solicitor)
  • Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria.

Q. Do FDR Practitioners provide counselling?

A. FDR practitioners do not provide counselling in FDR sessions. However LifeWorks offers counselling services in locations across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. Further information on counselling can be provided at any stage during the FDR process.

Q. How much does FDR cost?

A. FDR at LifeWorks is partially funded by the Australian Government, however funding does not meet the cost of delivering services and as a result fees are charged on a sliding scale according to your gross income (i.e. the total of any salary, any government payments and any Child Support payments, before tax is deducted). Each participant in FDR pays an hourly rate according to their own income, for both individual and joint sessions. It is expected that fees are paid by each person on the day of service.

When contact is made with LifeWorks to discuss FDR or to book an appointment, you will be asked to provide your gross income level, so that your hourly rate can be advised.

In cases of genuine financial hardship, a discussion in relation to a reduced rate could occur with the practitioner at your initial appointment.

Q. Do we still pay even if an agreement has not been reached?

A. The process of FDR is focused on resolving issues, to both share opinions and to reach agreements where possible. Even if a final and complete agreement on issues is not achieved via FDR, a fee is still payable in recognition of the professional hours provided to assist you and your ex-partner.

Q. Any other questions?

A. Please feel free to contact LifeWorks on 8650 6200 or via email on to ask any further questions and find out more about the dispute resolution process.