30 June 2015

Undisputed: Family Dispute Resolution in Practice

Published on 30 June 2015

Lawyers play a multitude of roles: interpreter, advisor, guardian, and friend, among others. For family lawyers, being a referee can often be part of the job and in the field of family law we call these referees Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners (FDRPs).

FDRPs are accredited, specialist mediators registered with the Federal Attorney General’s office who assist families affected by separation or divorce in resolving matters related to property, money and child custody.

In a four year study conducted by La Trobe University and funded by the Attorney-General’s department, FDR has been found to be a significant factor in reducing the number of family law matters that go to court. That study also found that FDR led to greater stability of care and contact arrangements and better management of parenting disputes following mediation.

But the benefits of FDR aren’t just for the families involved. College of Law’s resident FDR expert and adjunct lecturer, Linda Kochanski, sees FDR as an important area for lawyers to branch out into in order to become involved in more than just litigation.

“Lawyers can add skills to their practice through studying FDRP,” Kochanski said to Insights.

“For some lawyers it can signify a career change into mediation rather than straight law. At the worst, studying FDRP can assist lawyers in preparing their clients for the compulsory dispute resolution processes required under the Family Law Act.”

Danielle Jaku-Greenfield, family law practitioner, mediator and College of Law lecturer, has in the past highlighted the benefits for lawyers of becoming an FDRP.

“I find mediating more fulfilling,” Jaku-Greenfield said.

“You can make a positive difference in people’s lives more quickly than when practising as a lawyer. I also appreciate the work/life balance it allows me to have.”

However, given the emotionally charged nature of family law disputes, there can be challenges. Kochanski highlights “the high level of emotion and conflict that often accompanies FDR matters” and lawyers’ traditional unwillingness to deal with emotion and conflict as posing a significant challenge.

Given the Family Law Act’s requirement of participation in FDR prior to making an application to change parenting orders, becoming an FDRP would be a valuable tool to a family lawyer.

"It is now a compulsory step for matters relating to children in Family Law so it really is something that lawyers at the very least should have a working knowledge of,” said Kochanski.

Please click here for more information about the Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution or contact fdrp@collaw.edu.au with any questions.