More parents resolving their differences out of court

  • Amy Adams

The Government’s family justice reforms are proving highly successful, with almost 75 percent of parenting disputes referred to mediation being completely resolved without the need to go to court.

The Family Justice reforms, which went live on 31 March, place out-of-court community-based resolution services at the heart of a new system to resolve family disputes about the care of children.

The centrepiece of the reforms is the new Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) service where, working with mediators, parents are able to sort out disputes about the care of their children. FDR is proving highly successful.  Of the 352 disputes referred to FDR by 5 October 2014, 74% of mediations resolved all matters, and 13% some matters. 

Justice Minister Amy Adams praised the initial success of the new family justice system.

“While the reforms are still bedding in, it’s clear they’re already delivering on the principles that underpinned the changes – a modern, accessible family justice system that encourages parents to reach out-of-court agreements about arrangements for the care of their children.

“We wanted a system that reduces the stress experienced by families and children, by avoiding the delays, conflict and expense that court proceedings entail through greater use of out-of-court mediation.  It’s clear the new system is doing just that,” Ms Adams says.

“Almost three-quarters of parents going into mediation are resolving their disputes without having to go to court which is reducing the inevitable stress children and families face when their parents separate.   It also means the Family Court can now focus on the most difficult cases, especially those involving family violence, that require judicial expertise.”

Ms Adams says the family justice system had to change to meet the needs of 21st Century families.

“A Ministry of Justice review of family justice in 2011 found court processes were complex, uncertain and too slow.  There was a lack of focus on children and vulnerable people, and not enough support to assist parties to resolve parenting and relationship issues out-of-court.”

Other aspects of the community-based reforms are also proving highly successful with 2,737 people completing Parenting through Separation courses, 1,970 people accessing the new Family Legal Advice Service and more than 2.6 million page views on the new Family Justice website (

While most cases are now initially referred to FDR, urgent matters (e.g., disputes that involve domestic violence or abuse) continue to go straight to the Family Court, where all parties are entitled to legal representation and, if eligible, to legal aid.  The number of applications before the Family Court has reduced by 1,869 since 1 March 2014.

Editor's notes:

  • The reforms relate to Care of Children Act matters, which account for about 40% of Family Court applications.
  • For those participants who are eligible for government funding (an estimated 60% of participants) their share of Family Dispute Resolution is fully funded by the government. 
  • Those participants who are not eligible for full funding can access the Family Dispute Resolution service for no more than $897 (incl GST) from government providers.
  • As at 5 October 654 assessments for mediation were being progressed, and 1,017 had been completed in total since 31 March 2014.
    • 352 mediations had been completed, with 258 resolving all matters (74%), 47 some matters (13%) and 47 no matters (13%).
    • 226 mediations were booked and a further 68 were to be scheduled
  • The number of applications to the Family Court on hand (work in progress) has decreased by 1,869 applications since 1 March 2014.