If you know someone who has had their family law matter settled through the courts system then you will undoubtedly have heard that the process can be costly, long and the wait times frustrating.

The reasons for these difficulties are twofold. Firstly, the Family Courts in Australia are underfunded, with not enough judges or resources to deal with all matters in a timely fashion. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in relationship breakdown and domestic violence and these cases with serious risks of harm are taking priority.

This begs the question, is waiting two years (at least) to have your matter heard by a judge in court the only option to resolve your dispute? The answer is absolutely not. Alternative dispute resolution methods are great alternate option for settling your dispute in a more timely, cheaper, less formal and often less stressful manner.

There are two methods of alternative dispute resolution that have particularly been gaining popularity in settling family law matters in Australia. Namely, mediation and arbitration.

Mediation involves the appointment of a neutral third party to facilitate negotiation talks between yourself and the other party. The mediator’s role is to facilitate productive conversation and to assist the parties to come to an agreement between themselves that is mutually beneficial, they do not have the power to make a decision for you. Clients find that this is a practical, and often more amicable, approach to solving their issues and this method is particularly popular in matters involving issues of children and parenting. Mediation allows the flexibility to come to an agreement with the knowledge that you can revisit the arrangements at a later time, which is beneficial as the needs of children change as they grow older. If you do choose to participate in mediation it is not a requirement that you are legally represented, although we believe that it is helpful to have a solicitor who can assist you through the process.

Arbitration is similar to mediation in that it involves a neutral third party, but in this instance the third party does have the power to make a final determination in your matter. Think of the arbitrator as an informal judge, they will assess the facts presented to them by each party and then will ultimately decide on an outcome for the matter. Arbitration’s are usually, but not always, binding in nature and parties will typically agree before the arbitration takes place to accept the ultimate decision of the Arbitrator.  Due to this often-binding nature arbitration is not an option for matters where parenting issues are in dispute, but it is an increasingly popular method of resolving disputes over property and spousal maintenance.  Again, it is not a requirement that you have legal representation to undergo arbitration, however as the outcome is usually binding, we would strongly suggest you retain a solicitor to assist in preparing and pleading your case to ensure that you get the best possible outcome for yourself.

If you or someone you know need assistance with a family law matter, or if you would like to hear more about your options for resolving a family law dispute, please contact Kathy Matri on 02 4322 0251 or email us at [email protected]