Ending a marriage (or de facto partnership) is an emotionally traumatic experience. Housing, childcare, and division of assets are factors that can upset the most amicable separations. However, amid the distress, you still have a pressing need to take action regarding your day-to-day existence.
Fortunately, you do not have to face these decisions alone. Many couples going through a separation find participating in Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) a helpful way to iron out disagreements. Often, the sooner you choose FDR, the smoother the separation and divorce process is for you and your former partner.
What is Family Dispute Resolution?
Family Dispute Resolution is essentially mediation. Its purpose is to assist separating couples work out their differences regarding their divorce settlement. It is a viable alternative to heading to court to settle disagreements, and it generally saves a good deal of time and money for couples who choose to try FDR.
The couple will have a qualified and fair FDR practitioner working with them through the process. Ideally, the separating couple will be able to reach an agreement after working with the FDR practitioner.
Where Can I Find a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner?
You can locate an FDR practitioner in several ways:
- Referral from a legal professional
- Word of mouth
- Visiting the Family Relationships Online website
Is a Family Dispute Resolution Mandatory for the Division of Property?
In most cases, the Family Court will insist that a couple make a serious attempt to sort out their differences by working together to find a fair solution before initiating a court case for property settlement.
Participating in an FDR is one way to try and negotiate a reasonable division of property. However, if a couple can agree without an FDR, taking part in one is not necessary.
What Should I do Before Attending a Family Dispute Resolution?
One of the actions you should take before going to FDR is to speak with a legal representative. You will get a clear picture of how the law applies to your situation, and you will be less likely to be blindsided by surprising information. Additionally, you and your former partner should make a list of your property.
What Will the Law Consider Property?
Understanding what falls into the category of property is critical when participating in an FDR to divide it. Contrary to what you may have heard, no exceptions or exclusions occur based upon
- whose name the property is under
- who bought the item
- who uses the item
- who incurred the debt
The list of what counts as the property includes, but is not limited to,
- Cars, other vehicles, motorbikes, boats etc
- Furniture and household goods
- Inheritances and gifts
- Jewellery and other valuables
- Money including bank accounts, term deposits, and managed funds
- Real estate holdings, including the family home, holiday home, or investment properties
- Debts owed, such as loans, credit cards, and unpaid bills.
How Do I Know the Value of My Property?
Understanding the value of your property is a vital part of the process of dividing it. A crucial point to remember is that the value of your property is its current market value. If you bought a top of the line sports car five years ago, the price you paid is NOT the car’s value today.
For some properties, like real estate, a market appraisal will suffice. Likewise, a registered valuer can provide details regarding items in your home. For some holdings or complicated superannuation, you may need to consult with a financial expert.
What Happens During a Family Dispute Resolution?
Typically, before both parties meet with the FDR practitioner, they will meet one-on-one in individual sessions. This allows the practitioner time to learn background information and explain what will happen going forward in the Family Dispute Resolution process.
The FDR practitioner will also use this time to determine if both parties are emotionally ready for the dispute process. Suppose one or both participants are not capable of looking after their interests. In that case, the FDR practitioner can refer them to sources to come to grips with the separation before FDR continues.
Once the FDR process begins,
- You will identify a property and assign it value
- Discuss specific concerns such as keeping the family home if you have children
- Look at the contributions made by both partners during their relationship. The contributions can be financial, non-financial, homemaking, or parenting.
- Determine the future needs of both parties. Including,
o Earning capability
o Future standard of living
o Future financial resources
o Care of children under the age of 18
o Present and future support of children
- Finalising the agreement usually takes more than one session. Subsequent FDR sessions can involve negotiating, looking at options, or bringing further information to the process.
- Your last phase takes place outside of the Family Dispute Resolution. Your agreement must be in the form of Consent Orders or a binding financial agreement. Retaining legal services is often a part of this process. However, you can opt to use a Do-it-Yourself Consent Order Kit. You can get a kit by contacting the Family Court of Australia.