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“Family Dispute Resolution”: Mediation through the Family Court

What is Family Dispute Resolution?

Care of Children Act 2004, s 46E Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013, s 12

Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a service where an independent mediator will help the parents discuss the issues and try to reach an agreement.

You usually can’t apply to the Family Court to deal with a dispute unless you’ve already tried to resolve the dispute through the FDR process.

You can get more information on FDR from the Ministry of Justice website, here (or go to: www.justice.govt.nz and search “Mediation to work out parenting disagreements”).

Note: Family Dispute Resolution replaced the free counselling and mediation services that used to be provided to all people taking disputes to the Family Court.

What happens in Family Dispute Resolution?

Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013, s 11

In Family Dispute Resolution, both of you will meet together with the mediator. It will be an informal meeting and won’t be like being in a court.

The mediator will:

  • help you and the other person identify the issues that are in dispute
  • help you talk through these issues, and
  • help you try to reach an agreement that best serves the wellbeing and best interests of the children.

The mediator will tell you how many sessions you will need to have.

Before the FDR process starts you will have a talk with one of the FDR mediators on your own – this could be over the phone. The mediator will find out from you about the other person involved in the dispute. The mediator will contact the other person and will consider whether your dispute is suitable for Family Dispute Resolution.

The mediator may decide to offer you some counselling before the mediation sessions start (“preparatory counselling”), particularly if you’re feeling nervous about going to mediation. This might be offered just to you, or to the other person as well.

Who runs Family Dispute Resolution?

The process will be run by someone who’s been approved as a Family Dispute Resolution mediator by an organisation such as the New Zealand Law Society, AMINZ (the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand), or LEADR (Association of Dispute Resolvers).

Some of these mediators will also be lawyers with experience in the Family Court. All will be trained and professionally qualified in helping to resolve family issues.

To find an approved Family Dispute Resolution mediator, contact the Family Court or go to the Ministry of Justice website, here (or go to: www.justice.govt.nz and search “Mediation to work out parenting disagreements”).

Do I have to pay for Family Dispute Resolution?

If your income is below a certain limit, you won’t have to pay anything. To find out whether you’ll need to pay or not, use the Family Court’s financial eligibility table available online, here (or go to: www.justice.govt.nz and search “qualifying for funding”).

People who are above the income limits will have to pay for Family Dispute Resolution. The cost of using a government funded mediator is $897 (or $448.50 each for two people). If you choose to use another approved mediator that is not government funded, they will set their own price.

If you qualify for the free FDR service, any preparatory counselling (before FDR begins) you’re offered by the mediator will also be free.

If you don’t qualify for the free FDR service, counselling may be subsidised according to your income.

Can I take a support person or lawyer with me?

You can bring a support person with you to the Family Dispute Resolution sessions, such as a friend or family member, if the mediator and the other person agrees to this.

Lawyers don’t attend the FDR sessions.

What if I feel too intimidated to go through mediation with my ex-partner?

Care of Children Act 2004, s 46E Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013, s 12

You don’t have to go through the Family Dispute Resolution process if one of the following situations apply to you:

  • one or both of you is unable to participate effectively in the process; or
  • the other person has been violent towards you or your children; or
  • the mediator believes your situation is inappropriate for FDR.

If the other person has been violent towards you or your children you can apply to the Family Court without first going through FDR. You’ll need to provide an affidavit (a sworn statement) with your application providing evidence of this. You can find more information about providing an affidavit to the Family Court at the Ministry of Justice website, here (or go to: www.justice.govt.nz and search “affidavits and statutory declarations”).

If the Family Court Registrar is unsure whether you should be excused from FDR, the judge will decide.

If your ex-partner has started the FDR process, the mediator will contact you to check that FDR is appropriate for your case. If you don’t feel you will be able to go through the process, you should tell the mediator. They may decide, on one of the three reasons explained above, that FDR shouldn’t take place. If so, you or your ex-partner could then apply for a court order without having to go through FDR.

Can I stop the mediation partway through the process?

If you try FDR but partway during the process you feel you can’t continue, you should let the mediator know. The mediator can decide that it’s inappropriate to continue the process on one of the three reasons explained in the previous question.

If the mediator decides to stop the FDR process, they’ll give you a form stating this and then you’re free to apply for a Family Court Order. You have to attach this mediator’s form to your application.

What if Family Dispute Resolution doesn’t resolve the dispute?

If going to Family Dispute Resolution doesn’t resolve all the issues in dispute, you can apply to the Family Court under the Care of Children Act for it to decide the dispute. You have 12 months to do this, otherwise you’ll have to go through Family Dispute Resolution again.

What if we reach an agreement but I decide I’m not happy with it?

Care of Children Act 2004, s 46E Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013, s 12

If you try the arrangements agreed at Family Dispute Resolution and you decide you’re not happy with them, you can apply to the Family Court under the Care of Children Act for it to deal with the issue. You have 12 months to do this – otherwise you’ll have to go through the FDR process again.

However, you may not be able to take the issue to the Family Court straight after reaching an agreement at FDR if you’ve simply changed your mind or if you now feel that you were pressured into the agreement. In those cases, it could depend on whether the Family Court decides you can challenge the FDR agreement without trying the arrangements first.

Did this answer your question?

Parents, guardians and caregivers

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Access the free “Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options before and after pregnancy” booklet, here. This booklet contains practical answers to questions about pregnancy and the law, and includes information on sexual health and consent, options after a positive pregnancy test, healthcare, education, housing and more.
Email for a hard copy: publications@wclc.org.nz
Phone: Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley – 04 499 2928

Family Court

The Family Court website covers many topics discussed in this chapter, including how the family court works, care of children, adoption and paternity.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/family

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on what happens with children when parents separate.

Website: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/what-happens-to-your-children-when-you-part

Inland Revenue

Inland Revenue’s Child Support webpage has a wide range of forms and guides for parents and caregivers.

Website: www.ird.govt.nz/topics/child-support
Phone: 0800 221 221

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services (ANZASCS)

The ANZASCS website has information about supervised contact and lists contact details for approved providers of supervised contact services.

Website: www.anzascs.org.nz

Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are many kinds of “alternative dispute resolution” that, depending on your personal situation, may be cheaper and more successful than going to the Family Court. These include counselling, mediation and negotiation. The following list is not exhaustive:

Resolution Institute: www.resolution.institute
Website: www.aminz.org.nz
Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand Inc (AMINZ): www.fdrc.co.nz
FairWay: www.fairwayresolution.com
Family Works: www.familyworkscentral.org.nz

Oranga Tamariki/Ministry for Children

Oranga Tamariki’s website has information about the adoption process.

Website: www.orangatamariki.govt.nz/adoption/adopting-in-nz
Phone: 0508 326 459

Department of Internal Affairs

The DIA website has information on how to obtain original birth certificates for adopted children.

Website: www.govt.nz/browse/family-and-whanau/adoption-and-fostering/finding-your-birth-parents

Registering your child’s birth

The Smartstart website allows you to register your baby’s birth online.

Website: www.smartstart.services.govt.nz/register-my-baby

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