Family law Conferencing
A Conference is the opportunity for parties involved in a conflict regarding their child/ren's arrangements to resolve the dispute, avoiding the possibility of going to Court. It allows parties to develop and agree their own solutions to a dispute. It is a good way of settling the dispute without the stress and anxiety of going to Court.
The common issues dealt with at a Conference are the time children spend with each parent, how they communicate with each parent, other specific issues and child support matters. We do not deal with property settlement matters.
Conferencing is arranged by the Commission's Family Dispute Resolution Unit (FDR).
To be eligible to participate in a Conference at least one of the parties involved in the dispute has to be in receipt of a grant of Legal Aid. Any person applying for Legal Aid has to satisfy the income, assets, guidelines/merits test.
Parties involved in Conferencing can be the child/ren's mother, father, grandparent, other extended family members and if the child/ren has a solicitor appointed, the child representative. Conferencing is different to mediation in the community sector in that the parties attend with their solicitors who participate in the Conference process.
Not all matters are suitable to Conference. The FDR Organiser's responsibility is to carefully screen all potential candidates for Conferencing. We speak with each party (mother, father etc) and explain our role and the service we provide and elicit information about their situation. We are mindful of safety issues such as domestic violence. It is possible to still Conference when there are d/v issues and a intervention order is in place. We would conduct a shuttle Conference in these circumstances. Additionally there may be child abuse, drug, alcohol, mental health or other health issues that have to be taken into account.
If we consider it inappropriate to Conference a matter we would inform the Assignments Officer. They would then consider whether further funding, such as litigation funding, should be granted.
If we deem it appropriate to Conference a matter, we would write to the other party formally inviting them to attend a Conference. They are informed of their option to seek legal representation.
It is not compulsory for the other party to have a solicitor present with them at a Conference. We encourage the other party to at least obtain legal advice if not represented at a Conference.
Conferences can be held jointly (all parties in the same room), or separately if there are safety issues or other issues that will impact on the ability to freely discuss and deal with the matters raised (shuttle) or via telephone link up if any of the parties are in a remote location. We do attend some country areas to hold Conferences.
If an agreement is reached at a conference then the solicitor/s can prepare Heads of Agreement or Consent Minutes of Order which can be filed at the Court. It is also possible for the parties to attend a Review Conference at a later stage to allow the parties to ‘trial’ the agreement and make changes which may be needed.
After the Conference the chairperson will make recommendations to the Commission whether Legal Aid should continue. This is based on the merits test – reasonable chance of success in Court.
If a party has a grant of Legal Aid then they will have to pay a contribution towards their legal fees. The amount depends on their financial circumstances.
If the party has Legal Aid and they own real estate and the legal fees exceed $1600 then the Commission can register a charge over the property (statutory charge) and require repayment of the amount of legal costs when the property is sold or if the person refinances.
If a party does not have Legal Aid they will have to pay their own solicitor costs to attend the Conference.