8 Top Tips to Prepare for Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution

7 April 2022

Separation and divorce is difficult, stressful, emotional, and expensive. Even if you and your ex-partner are relatively amicable, you still need to work out how to best care for your children, and how to disentangle and split your finances and property in a fair and just way. As such, it is incredibly helpful to know what to expect when it comes to family law 

Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) can help you work through your parenting and financial agreements, resolve disputes, and find solutions that provide the best outcome for all parties involved. 

Here, we provide an overview of the mediation process, and share our top tips to help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible. 

Mediation: An Overview 

When compared to the stress and costs of litigation, mediation is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to resolve divorce issues, sort out division of assets, and create a co-parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children and parents. In Australia, both government-funded and private centres offer a variety of options for mediation, depending on your individual circumstances.  

The role of an independent mediator is to guide you to a resolution through a combination of joint and individual sessions. A mediator does not ‘take sides’ but ensures that each party understands the issues at hand, is aware of each other’s position, and can help find a fair and workable solution within the confines of family law. While these sessions can be held solely with the separating couple and mediator, lawyer-assisted mediation is another option, whereby both parties are represented by a lawyer. In a situation that involves family violence, ‘shuttle mediation’ can be used to keep the parties separate and in a safe space.  

What is Family Dispute Resolution?

A specialised form of mediation, FDR is focussed on considering the needs of the children while helping you come to an agreement. Often primarily used to resolve parenting matters, property division can also be included in FDR. Under Australian Family Law, it is compulsory for separated parents to go through the process of FDR before applying to a Family Law Court for parenting orders. You can source Family Dispute Resolution privately, or through government-funded services such as: 

– Family Relationship Centres 

– Legal Aid Commissions 

– Community-based family law services 

What does Mediation and FDR Cost? 

Mediation has varying costs and can take anything from hours to days, depending on the complexity of your situation. Government-assisted FDR may be free if you meet the eligibility criteria. A family lawyer can help you understand your options but bear in mind that, in most cases, mediation or FDR is much cheaper and quicker than battling a settlement out in court. 

8 Top Tips to get the most from Mediation / Family Dispute Resolution

1. Prepare for Mediation

– Learn about the options available to you and what is best suited to your needs and budget

– Educate yourself on your rights and responsibilities

– Speak to a family lawyer who will listen, understand your situation, and help you determine the best course of action for you and your family

  2. Determine your Priorities 

– Think about all the issues involved in your parenting, financial and property matters 

– Figure out what is important to you and what you hope to achieve through mediation/Family Dispute Resolution 

– Keep an open mind. As you progress through the process, you will continue to learn about your options and your priorities may change. 

 3. Know the Cost of Mediation 

– Be aware of the costs involved in the different types of mediation available to you 

– Work out what you can afford and the best way to achieve a resolution within a reasonable budget. It is very easy for costs to blow out, which can create more stress, unhappiness, and pressure.  

– Again, seek guidance from a family law specialist if you are unsure. 

 4. Manage your Emotions 

– Recognise that this can be difficult if you are feeling uncertain, unheard, or at risk 

– Understand that this is a highly emotional time and be prepared that you may feel overwhelmed. Mediators and FDR practitioners know this and will encourage you to step away or take a break if needed.  

– Use mindfulness/grounding techniques to help you stay as calm as possible. Heightened emotion can get in the way of resolving the issues at hand. 

 5. Be Aware of your Communication 

– Mediation is not the time to be aggressive, score points or ‘play games’ 

– The language you use will affect the process, so be as ‘businesslike’ and professional as possible. Swearing or shouting will derail the process and make it difficult to come to a resolution. 

– Listen to your mediator and lawyer. Things don’t always go to plan, so it is important to listen and understand what is being discussed. If you are not sure – always ask for clarification. 

– Be prepared to negotiate to find the best solution for all parties 

6. Prepare for Roadblocks 

– Expect the unexpected. You never know what the other party may put forward and it is easy to be defensive when something unanticipated arises.  

– Be open to alternate options and think creatively to find a suitable solution 

– Take the time to work through the problem so you are happy with the resolution. Although decisions can be revisited, doing so will cost you more time, money, and stress, so it is best if as much as possible can be finalised during the mediation.

7. Be Safe

– If you feel unsafe, make sure you communicate this with the mediator in your initial intake consultation 

– Lawyer-assisted mediation involves a lawyer representing you during mediation. This is more expensive but is a good option if your case is complex, or family violence is involved. 

– It is possible to have a family member or friend to support you, at the agreement of both parties. Your lawyer/mediator will help you organise this prior to mediation. 

8. Prepare your Documentation 

– Your FDR practitioner, lawyer, or mediator will advise you what is required prior to, and on the day of, mediation 

– A complete understanding of your asset pool, debt, and any other parenting or legal matters will help you navigate this part of the process a little more smoothly 

– Lack of clarity, or failing to provide the requested information, will delay the mediation process. 

The challenges of separation and divorce can be overwhelming. Ending relationships is never easy, and it can be difficult to find the best way forward when you are hurt, angry, sad, or any of the myriad of emotions involved. As a result, it is vital that you get the right support to navigate such a stressful time. Involving a third-party mediator or FDR practitioner will help you to fully understand your options and legal rights, and, hopefully, resolve your parenting, financial and property matters as quickly and easily as possible. 

Are you going through a separation or divorce? We will support you, take the time to understand your unique situation, and help you achieve the best possible, and most cost-effective, outcome. Contact us to find out more.