A4.3 Lawyer-Assisted Family Dispute Resolution: addressing barriers to participation through a partnership model


Dr Genevieve Heard
Relationships Australia Victoria

Jennifer Lindstrom
Monash Law Clinics

Tuesday 16 May 2023

Time: 2:40pm – 3:10pm

Room: Room 8

A4.3 Relationship breakdown and re-partnering

Lawyer-Assisted Family Dispute Resolution: addressing barriers to participation through a partnership model


Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a key service in Australia’s family law setting, since it is compulsory for separating parents to attempt FDR before they can file in court. However, some clients are unable to participate in traditional FDR due to unequal bargaining power, family violence, or other vulnerabilities.

How do we ensure that all Australians can access FDR when they need it? Legally Assisted Family Dispute Resolution (LAFDR) is an option which may address some of the barriers to participation in non-adversarial dispute resolution, and the power imbalances experienced by some separated families. Real-time legal advice in-session can also lead to a timelier resolution of matters and can inform realistic client expectations regarding court outcomes.

Relationships Australia Victoria (RAV) has provided LAFDR for parenting matters alongside its ‘regular’ FDR services for approximately 10 years. RAV’s Family Relationship Centre (FRC) in Sunshine, Melbourne, partners with two local community legal centres (CLCs) to offer this service. The CLCs provide lawyers who understand the mediation process and who support RAV clients through the process, free of charge.

The RAV-CLC partnership model produces strong settlement rates. With increased political support for LAFDR, organisations will be looking to expand legally assisted services. To this end, it is important to evaluate outcomes and to collect data against which to consider the partnership model compared to other possible models.

This presentation provides preliminary data from efforts to evaluate the model using interviews with clients and with practitioners (FDR practitioners and lawyers) involved in providing the service. We speak to three questions:

  • What are the successful features of the LAFDR model when provided in partnership with CLCs?
  • What value does lawyer assistance add to the FDR process for clients?
  • What is the client experience of the LAFDR process?

Based on our preliminary findings we argue that the LAFDR-CLC model is an important part of the suite of alternative dispute resolution services, providing choice to vulnerable clients and enabling a greater number of separating parents to connect with the assistance they need.

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Dr. Genevieve Heard is Senior Researcher at Relationships Australia Victoria (RAV) where she has worked on numerous projects investigating outcomes of post-separation services. Genevieve has worked as Research Fellow in Sociology at Monash University and before that in Demography at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Genevieve’s research has focused on processes of family formation and dissolution. She is author of numerous papers on this subject and editor of Family Formation in 21st Century Australia (2015).

Jennifer Lindstrom has a double degree in Law and Music from Monash University. Jenn is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Legal Practice Manager and principal laterat Monash Law Clinics. Her practice and research interests are in family law, family dispute resolution and clinical legal education. Jenn was a former judicial registrar working in dispute resolution and has published a number of peer-reviewed articles in the above fields.