General information about Victoria Legal Aid's Family Dispute Resolution Service
Victoria Legal Aid’s Family Dispute Resolution Service (VLA FDRS) provides family dispute resolution to clients eligible for a grant of legal assistance.
VLA FDRS case managers are trained to identify and respond to risk issues, assess whether a matter is suitable for family dispute resolution and help prepare parties for a conference at the service.
Experienced chairpersons (mediators) facilitate discussions in an FDRS conference to manage and resolve parenting disputes and some family law financial matters.
Lawyers are supported in their role as advisers in an FDRS conference.
VLA FDRS is located at Level 9, 570 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Conferences can also be arranged at various metropolitan and regional locations around the state.
Applying for a grant to attend FDRS
VLA may make a grant of assistance for a person to be represented by a lawyer or independent children’s lawyer (ICL) to participate in family dispute resolution at FDRS. The grant allows for attendance at FDRS for up to two conferences without an extension of assistance. Up to three conferences without an extension of assistance are available in international child abduction matters.
The lawyer should only attend a second conference where the chairperson recommends another conference and/or the lawyer is of the view that a further conference will assist in resolving the dispute.
A grant of assistance is not available for a person to attend family dispute resolution provided by other family dispute resolution services or practitioners.
Parties may be eligible to attend FDRS where at least one party to the dispute, which can include an ICL, has a grant of assistance for FDRS. Where at least one party to the dispute is legally assisted, other parties involved in the dispute who don’t have a grant of assistance can also attend the service, either with their lawyer or on their own if they are not represented. Any party to a dispute who has a grant of assistance for FDRS can initiate the process.
Where a grant of legal assistance for FDRS is made, lawyers are expected to prepare for the conference.
When can you apply for FDRS?
A grant of assistance to attend FDRS can be made either:
- at an early stage in the dispute, before either party has started court proceedings, known as early intervention FDRS, or
- once litigation has started, known as litigation intervention FDRS.
FDRS before litigation has started
VLA may make a grant of assistance for early intervention FDRS for a person to attend FDRS to try and resolve the dispute before litigation has started.
Under VLA’s guidelines, unless the matter is an , the assessment of whether FDRS is suitable must be determined by FDRS and a required section 60I certificate obtained before recommending assistance for litigation.
FDRS during litigation
We encourage lawyers to consider the appropriateness of parties attending at FDRS to resolve issues in dispute at all stages of litigation.
We may make a grant of assistance for litigation intervention FDRS for a person to attend FDRS after litigation has started where:
- the lawyer considers that their client has available all relevant information (such as family reports or subpoenaed material, where relevant) and their client could make a decision about the ultimate issues in dispute, with legal representation, at a conference facilitated by a family dispute resolution practitioner, without a judge having to decide critical facts in dispute,
- the court has ordered the parties to participate in family dispute resolution.
Except in situations where the parties have been ordered by a court to attend family dispute resolution, lawyers are required to consider whether a matter is suitable to attend FDRS before a request is made for an extension of assistance for preparation for trial (see ).
After the VLA FDRS conference a chairperson’s report will be made recommending whether legal assistance for further litigation should be provided in relation to any issues that remain outstanding. Recommendations are also made about legal aid assistance for further FDRS conferences.
The recommendation is based upon whether a party has made a genuine effort to resolve the matter and the issues remaining in dispute have sufficient merit to warrant further funding.
The chairperson’s report is only part of the information to be considered by the lawyer in determining whether the matter meets VLA’s family law guidelines and merits test. It cannot be relied on for the purposes of a guideline assessment. Lawyers must make their own assessment of the guidelines and merits tests.
Safety concerns in family dispute resolution at FDRS
VLA FDRS is a service which can be suitable for matters which may have been assessed as not suitable by another family dispute resolution provider, for example matters involving substantial issues of family violence. Professional case managers at the service conduct a comprehensive risk assessments with all parties.
Allegations of family violence and concerns about safety are taken very seriously. If a matter is assessed suitable for an FDRS conference, mechanisms can be put in place to ensure the safety of parties at a conference – this can include parties being located in separate rooms, special arrangements for arrival and departure for a conference and telephone conferences.
Matters that are not appropriate to refer to FDRS
Lawyers should be mindful that in certain circumstances, attendance at FDRS may not be appropriate. Lawyers should not refer a matter to FDRS where:
- there is a court order requiring a person to seek leave to recommence family dispute resolution or court proceedings
- parentage is an issue in dispute. This does not include cases where parentage is in dispute but it’s not an issue, for example where both adult parties to the dispute accept the male party’s role as significant to the child’s care, welfare or development regardless of whether he is in fact the biological father
- there is a family violence intervention order in place with a ‘no exception’ clause which therefore does not allow for mediation or negotiation of children’s arrangements
- there are current Department of Families, Fairness and Housing investigations and the investigation is not concluded.
In all other matters, the lawyer should contact FDRS if they are in doubt as to whether a matter is appropriate for referral to FDRS.
If the matter is not appropriate to refer to FDRS, the lawyer must assess whether the criteria under the relevant litigation guideline are met.
The VLA FDRS employs and engages accredited family dispute resolution practitioners who provide certificates under s. 60I of the Family Law Act 1975.
Reviewed 20 April 2023