Family Court of Western Australia

Alternative Dispute Resolution

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to any process aimed at resolving a dispute between parties without court involvement. ADR can be used for disputes concerning your children and/or your financial/property issues. You should consider attending ADR before commencing proceedings in the Family Court. You are required to try to reach agreement using dispute resolution processes before the court will hear your case. It is also faster and cheaper than waiting for the court to make a decision for you. ADR involves an independent impartial person (with specialist training) assisting the parties resolve their issues. You and your children will benefit from an early resolution of your dispute.

ADR Processes

ADR processes include:

  • Arbitration – both parties choose an arbitrator and agree to be bound by their award, which is issued after a hearing at which all parties have the opportunity to be heard. The decision is final and binding and can be enforced by a court. For more information see the Family Court Brochure about Arbitration.
  • Negotiation – when parties discuss one or more issues where a conflict exists, which is intended to resolve at least one of these issues.
  • Mediation – the mediator facilitates negotiations by identifying issues, exploring settlement options, discussing consequences of not reaching an agreement and encouraging each party to accommodate the other party’s interests, and hopefully getting to a voluntary mutually acceptable agreement, which can be made into an order.
  • Conciliation – is a type of mediation, and focuses on early stages of negotiation, such as opening channels of communication, bringing the parties together and identifying mutually agreed issues.
  • Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) - is a special type of mediation for helping separating families to come to their own agreements. During FDR families will discuss the issues in dispute and consider different options, while being encouraged to focus on the needs of their children. FDR uses a neutral and accredited Family Dispute Resolution practitioner. The main objective of FDR is to assist parties to make a parenting plan setting out the agreed future parenting arrangements (more information is available here).
  • Collaborative Law – offers parties the support, guidance and protection of their own, specially-trained lawyers. If either party then decides to go to court, they both must hire new lawyers. This motivates everyone involved to continue working toward a mutually agreeable resolution. The parties retain control of the process. It may also involve other professionals. For more information see here.
  • Parenting Coordination - a child-focused process in which a trained and experienced parenting coordinator assists parents to carry out their parenting plan or comply with orders. With prior approval of the parties and the court, the parenting coordinator may make decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract. The purpose of Parent Coordination is to help parents resolve conflicts regarding their children in a timely manner and try to promote safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships. For more information see here.

Before you start your case, Family Dispute Resolution is usually compulsory in a parenting case. In a property case, it is expected that you will engage in pre-action procedures, including dispute resolution.

If you have filed an application in the Court in a parenting case, the court may make an order for you to attend FDR, in particular if you have not already attended. This might be at a Family Relationships Centre or with an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. The court often requires parties to attend Legal Aid’s Dispute Resolution service. You may also be required to attend a Child Dispute Conference with a Family Consultant at the Court, who may assist you reach an agreement. 

In property cases, you will be required to attend a confidential Conciliation Conference. However, other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution may be more appropriate, for example mediation or arbitration. The Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators (AIFLAM) have a list of current practitioners who are arbitrators and/or mediators. Some Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners are able to assist with property matters.

To get the most out of Alternative Dispute Resolution in a property case, it is important that disclosure has been provided and valuations obtained for items of property which are in dispute. You will also benefit from having obtained legal advice. A list of local family law practitioners is available from the WA Family Law Practitioners website (also includes local mediators and arbitrators). A search is also available on the Law Society of Western Australia website.

During your case, the court expects you will engage in further appropriate Alternative Dispute Resolution. You are encouraged to propose to the court any available form of Alternative Dispute Resolution you think will assist in the resolution of your dispute.

In appropriate parenting and property cases, the court may require you to attend a one day or half day (3 hours) early intervention/settlement conference or Pre-Trial Conference. These conferences are confidential mediations conducted at the Court by a Registrar to see whether the parties' dispute can be settled or narrowed.

Mediation Pilot
The Family Court of Western Australia conducted a mediation pilot program from 15 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, which offered existing litigants at the Court the opportunity to participate in a confidential, one day mediation (Pre-Trial Conference). The final report can be downloaded from the link below.

Last updated: 22-Jan-2024

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