Family Dispute Resolution Services
Our family services focus on helping you find a sustainable resolution to your dispute and move forward.
We offer you a caring and experienced team of professionals, who will make every effort to help you maintain or restore a meaningful relationship with your children and other members of the family.
In our experience, the best process to resolve a dispute regarding children is Child Informed Mediation. (See our FAQ below for a more detailed explanation).
We refer clients to experienced psychologists who have particular expertise in assessments for Child Informed Mediation.
FAQs about Family Matters
What is the role of a mediator and how can mediation help couples during divorce?
The mediator’s role as a neutral and impartial person is to facilitate a conversation between the parties, making sure they understand each other’s point of view, and to help them to reach an agreement that is fair for everyone. In cases of family mediation, regarding children, the agreement has to reflect what is in the best interests of the children. (I often say: “It is the children’s right to enjoy time with both parents; it is not the parent’s right”.)
The process of mediation, if conducted properly, is of great help to couples going through separation and divorce.
Mediation is an empowering and powerful process.
First of all, a mediator should provide a safe environment where people can discuss, exchange views, clarify issues, and be able to agree as well as disagree.
Applying particular skills, an experienced mediator should be able to get parties talking. Initially parties are not comfortable talking (bad communication is a common cause of divorce) but, once issues have been discussed and clarified, parties start talking to each other. This process can take a couple of hours or more, depending on the issues.
Reaching an agreement is desirable, but sometimes clients leave my practice without a written agreement, only to call me days or weeks later to tell me that they have met for coffee and reached an agreement and want me to put it in writing.
An agreement reached in mediation is more likely to last because the parties themselves have made the decisions: no one has suggested or imposed the solutions. It is for this reason that agreements made in mediation tend to “stick” for longer.
Why do I need to attend mediation?
According to the Australian Family Law Act 1975, it is compulsory to attend mediation if you do not have a parenting agreement regarding your children (living arrangements and spending time).
There are some exceptions, and the mediator needs to make an assessment of your particular case.
Amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 mandate going through the process of Alternative Dispute Resolution prior to making an application in Court regarding parenting orders.
This means, in practical terms, that you must see a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner.
There are, of course, some exceptions (child abuse, domestic violence, urgent matter) and in these circumstances you are not required to attend a Family Mediation prior to making an application in court.
How do I choose a mediator?
The Attorney-General’s Department has accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners throughout Australia to guarantee they all comply with strict requirements (a university degree, mediation training, police checks, etc) and they need to comply with other requirements in order to maintain their accreditation.
In order to choose a private mediator, the first step is to go to the Attorney-General’s website, choose a location and view an alphabetical list of Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners in your chosen area.
The second step is to make a shortlist of the practitioners, according to their expertise (there is information on the website regarding the mediator’s expertise, including dealing with blended families, families of different cultural backgrounds and languages, etc).
The third step is to give them a call and have a chat with them, ask them how the whole process works if they see you privately for a pre-mediation session, how long have they been working as a mediator, and their fees and methods of payment.
This first call is important because it can give you a ‘feel’ for this mediator. Of course, if you meet him or her for an initial consultation or pre-mediation session, you can make up your mind if this person has the right skills and experience to help and guide you. Attending an initial consultation is probably the best way of deciding if this practitioner is the best for you.
Some mediators offer a co-mediation model, which means that you will have two mediators, generally a male mediator and a female mediator. There are a lot of advantages with this particular model but unfortunately, very few practices offer this option.
If you don’t want to use private mediators, then you can choose the services of Community Justice Centres which exist in almost all capital cities. These services are mostly free of charge or modest fees apply.
Your other choice for a free service is to attend a Family Relationship Centre, where the first three hours are free but, as in the Community Justice Centres, you don’t have a choice of mediators.
Your other alternative for a free service is to attend Legal Aid. If you qualify for aid, a Family Dispute Resolution Conference can be arranged, but first, you need to request and be granted Legal Aid.
What happens during a “typical” mediation session?
As you may know there are as different styles of mediations as there are mediators. However a ‘standard mediation’ would be something like this:
First of all the mediator would see both parties separately in what we call a pre-mediation session or initial consultation. The objective of these sessions is for the mediator to gather information about the case, talk to the parties, hear their side of the story and make an assessment about the suitability of the mediation in each particular case. These sessions are confidential and the mediator will not share information heard in this private session with the other party. Some mediators prefer to conduct these sessions at least one week before the mediation.
After the initial consultation, the mediator will decide if the case is suitable for mediation and, if it is, make a time and date to conduct the mediation.
So, what happens on the day of the mediation?
Before starting the session you may be asked to sign a Confidentiality Agreement. This is to ensure that all participants can talk freely and ‘put all the cards on the table’ without fear of being told ‘you said such and such in mediation’. You cannot use things you heard in mediation if the matter goes to Court.
Then the mediator will bring both parties together and start the mediation.
Sometimes the parties want to bring their solicitors or a support person and that is acceptable if both parties agree to it.
The mediator will start by explaining the process and nature of mediation.
The mediator will also explain his or her role.
The mediator will not make any decisions or give legal advice.
The mediator will use his or her expertise to facilitate a conversation that will enable the parties to reach an agreement.
Once the explanation is done, the mediator will ask both parties, in turn, to say briefly the reason why they are in mediation and what they want to achieve in the session.
The mediator will then make a list of the issues in disagreement and, consequently, encourage the parties to discuss these issues.
This stage of the mediation is known as the ‘exploration’ phase and it is, understandably, the longest phase of the mediation. It usually takes a couple of hours but in family mediations it may take much longer.
There will be, at the discretion of the mediator, private sessions in which the mediator will check with the parties in a private setting how things are going and ‘reality test’ some of the options that might have been mentioned.
Once the ‘exploration’ phase is finished, the negotiation phase begins. Here the mediator will play the role of the ‘devil’s advocate’ and check the practicality of the solutions.
Especially when the mediation is about parenting agreements, the mediator will remind the parents of the concept of ‘the best interest of the children’ and help them to negotiate an agreement that reflects this concept.
At this stage the mediator will discuss with the parties what kind of document, if any, they want. If the parties want something in writing then the mediator will draft a written agreement (in whatever form the parties want, i.e. a parenting plan, heads of agreement, etc), then the parties will read the document carefully and sign.
Each party will receive a signed copy and the mediator will keep one for his or her records.
At this stage the mediation is formally finished.
How long must I wait for an appointment?
The initial consultation, of up to one hour, will be made within a week of the first contact with the clients. In urgent matters, we will endeavor to see clients within two to three days of the first contact.
A joint session for mediation will be set within one week from the initial consultation.
How long does the mediation take?
A mediation session normally takes about two to five hours, depending on the complexity of the issues to discuss. Sometimes it takes longer.
If the mediation looks like exceeding five hours, the mediator and the parties may decide to take a break midway through the process, or they may come back at a later available date.
What happens if one partner refuses to go to mediation, or if they attend but refuse to participate?
The amendments to the Family Law Act make it compulsory to attend mediation before making an application in Court regarding parenting matters.
What does this mean? If you have already court orders or an arrangement regarding your children that you want to change, then you have to attend mediation.
If you have separated recently and cannot agree with your ex partner on the living arrangements of your children, then you also need to attend mediation.
There are few exceptions to this rule (domestic violence, child abuse, urgent matter) and the Court will not accept any application without a “Certificate 60I” issued by a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, stating that you have attended mediation.
So, if one parent is invited to attend mediation and refuses to go, the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner has no option but to issue a certificate stating that this parent has refused to go to mediation and the Court might take this refusal into consideration. This certificate 60I is valid for twelve months.
On the other hand, if a parent accepts to attend mediation but refuses to participate then the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner also has no option but to issue a certificate stating that this party has made no genuine effort to resolve the matter, and consequently the Court might take this information into consideration.
When the Court receives one of these certificates it may consider making an order referring the parties back to family dispute resolution.
The Court may also determine whether to award costs against a party.
It is very sad to see that this happens very often in mediation. Some parents do not take mediation as a serious and important process but as an additional step before going to Court.
Parents should make a genuine and honest use of mediation and not waste this crucial chance to make an agreement on behalf of the children.
Some parents see mediation as a forum to vent their anger and frustration to each other and forget completely that their children are trusting them to make a fair agreement so that they can enjoy time with both parents.
I don’t want to be in the same room with the other person. Can I have a mediation in different rooms?
Yes. This is called a “shuttle mediation” and this option will be discussed at your initial appointment. Sometimes parties start their mediation in different rooms and, after some time, decide to come to the same room to finalize their agreement. Sometimes parties remain in different rooms and the mediator comes and goes to each room until the parties reach an agreement.
We try to make your mediation experience as comfortable as it can be.
Are children typically involved in the mediation process? What provisions are there for children to be able to express their opinions and wishes during the mediation process?
No, children are not involved in mediation directly.
But there is a model of mediation, child informed mediation, developed by child psychologist Dr Jennifer McIntosh, which involves children indirectly.
The children are not present in the mediation session, but their views are.
In this model, children are assessed by a psychologist or family consultant who prepares a report to be shared with the parents and the mediator.
The assessment does not include the famous question: ‘Who do you want to live with?’ This question should be answered by the parents with the help of the psychologist and mediator. It is too big a responsibility for a child to decide where he or she should live, yet very often parents ask this question to their children, without knowing the extreme difficulty and possibly trauma they may cause in forcing them to produce an answer.
In child informed mediation, once the assessment is concluded, the psychologist and the mediator meet with the parents and discuss the contents of the report.
This is a very important part of the process.
Often for the first time, parents are aware of how their children are feeling and what it means to be them in this situation.
It is an eye-opener for a lot of parents who did not know or did not want to know, their children’s views and the effects caused to them by the separation and the conflict.
Once the contents of the report are shared with the parents in a non judgemental and supportive environment, the mediator will make a time to conduct the mediation.
In my view this is the best model of family mediation. Very often parents think they know what is best for their children, and very often children tell their parents what the parents want to hear. So what we have in these cases, is both parents telling us, the mediators, the children want such-and-such, and very often these wishes are contradictory to what we find in the assessment.
What is the Initial Consultation?
It is your first informal conversation with the mediator. It is very important to have this confidential and private meeting so that you can ask all the questions you may have.
Most importantly, in this initial consultation, you meet the practitioner and decide whether he or she is the right professional for you, ask about his or her experience and in general have a feeling that he or she will be able to help you.
If it is a Family Law matter involving children’s matters, then the mediator, who must be an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, needs to assess whether your case is suitable for mediation and discuss your options and referrals if necessary. The Family Law Act states that in some cases mediation or conciliation are not suitable and the Practitioner has to ensure that your case does not fall within these exceptions. The mediator will make this assessment after seeing both parties.
Is the agreement legally binding?
It can be made legally binding if that is what the parties want.
In Family Law cases, regarding children, the parties can choose to have a Parenting Plan or a mediation agreement that can be made into Court Consent Orders. In such cases, the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (a mediator especially accredited by the Attorney-General) will explain these options and the parties can make an informed decision. The Practitioner will not be able to give you legal advice.
Do I need legal advice before I come to mediation or conciliation?
In most matters, we encourage clients to obtain legal advice before coming to mediation or conciliation. Parties are also welcome to bring their solicitors to the mediation or conciliation session. These issues will be discussed in the Initial Consultation.
Delcy encourages the presence of lawyers and other professionals in mediation. She believes that there is a space for mediators, accountants, financial planners and lawyers to come together to guide the people who need to resolve their conflict.
Delcy strongly rejects the notion that lawyers should be excluded from mediation. She believes that lawyers can make a major contribution to the process of mediation and conciliation. Lawyers who come to our mediation practice know that their role is not to make decisions for their clients – it is to support, guide and give legal advice to their clients.
In mediation, the mediator manages the process and the parties have control of the content and outcome of their agreement with the support of their lawyers.
Would you be able to make referrals?
Yes. We make referrals to counsellors, psychologists, lawyers, financial planners, accountants and other service providers who might be able to help our clients.
Do any of your practitioners speak languages other than English?
As well as English, our Principal, Delcy Lagones de Anglim speaks Spanish (her mother tongue), French and Italian at a competent level, and Khmer at a basic level. Her international experience, which includes living, studying, and working in Italy, Switzerland, France, Peru, Cambodia, and Australia, has provided her with a strong background for dealing with multicultural issues. She understands people from different cultural backgrounds.
Delcy has worked as a lawyer overseas and understands both the civil and common law systems.
Can we have a mediation via phone link?
Yes, it is possible. We have worked in the past with parties not only outside Canberra but overseas.
If necessary, one of our mediators will travel to wherever the parties want to meet. Alternatively we can conduct the mediation by phone link.
We encourage a face-to-face mediation but, in cases where one of the parties does not feel comfortable sitting in the same room with the other party, we can offer phone or shuttle mediation.
Can I bring a support person to the mediation or conciliation session?
Yes, provided this is accepted by the other party. Sometimes it is beneficial to have a friend or family member in the session. However their role is to support, not participate.
What if I don’t get an agreement?
Most cases do settle in mediation or conciliation but sometimes, even when they do not, the issues have been narrowed and misunderstandings clarified. In such cases, it is not uncommon for the parties to reach agreement on their own.
Sometimes people return for a second session, some weeks later, and reach an agreement then.
In Family Law matters, if you don’t reach an agreement, the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner will issue a Certificate 60I, according to the Family Law Act 1975. This document is a prerequisite to initiate an application in Court.
What is the Certificate 60I?
Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners, accredited by the Attorney-General’s Department, are the only professionals in Australia who can issue this document. The Certificate 60I states whether one or both parties made a genuine effort to resolve their dispute, if either party attended or refused to attend mediation or if, once mediation has commenced, the mediator regards the matter unsuitable for mediation.
This Certificate is a prerequisite to initiate an application in Court regarding children’s matters, and it might be taken into consideration by the Judge when awarding costs.
The number 60I refers to the relevant section of the Family Law Act 1975.
Why would I choose mediation over going to Court?
Mediation is quicker and cheaper than going to court. Most importantly, mediation gives the parties an opportunity to come up with solutions that both can live with. They retain control of their own future.
How much will it cost me?
Our fee for the initial consultation of up to one hour, is $190 including GST. We will discuss the fees for the joint mediation and payment options at the initial consultation.