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Domain 4
Family functioning

Lawyer-Assisted Family Dispute Resolution: Reducing conflict and increasing communication between co-parents

As a leading provider of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), we are committed to regularly conducting research and evaluation of FDR and related services. FDR is a type of mediation which assists separating couples to resolve family law disputes related to parenting, property or financial matters. Lawyer-Assisted FDR is offered to our clients in place of, or in addition to, our regular FDR services, to reduce barriers to participation. We are currently evaluating outcomes from the Lawyer-Assisted FDR service offered at our 2 centres in Sunshine in conjunction with 2 Community Legal Centres. Our initial findings are based on preliminary survey data and semi-structured interviews conducted with Lawyer-Assisted FDR clients, collected since February 2023.

Clients perceived that the greatest value of the program came from lawyers’ involvement. Contributing to this perception was the support and intervention lawyers provided in preparing and responding to proposals; providing advice and perspective on settlement likelihoods, consequences, and options; and giving reassurance.


Overall, 65% of clients who participated in the evaluation expressed satisfaction with the process, and over 50% of clients were satisfied with the outcomes from the service. A large majority of clients felt that lawyer assistance helped them to better understand their position, understand outcomes from the session, better respond to proposals and gain confidence to participate. The service was considered effective in improving communication with former partners. The mediator’s role was viewed positively; 75% of clients found the mediator to be issue-focused, helpful in providing information and advice, and impartial. Feeling supported in various ways – for example, being prepared and informed about what to expect – played a crucial role in determining whether clients felt the service helped them. 

Lawyer-Assisted FDR was considered an affordable alternative to litigation especially suited to complex or high conflict cases often characterised by communication breakdown and/or involving a party with limited access to children. The service was found to be child focused, and conducive to clients expressing their views. 

early matters: Enhancing family dynamics, parental confidence and healthy child development

We have been delivering ‘early matters’ in the City of Brimbank and the City of Ballarat since 2015. The service combines evidence-based universal parenting programs, parenting education sessions and one-on-one tailored family support. It aims to improve child wellbeing and early development by enhancing parental confidence and skills and strengthening positive family relationships. Evidence shows that in the early years, the most important protective and preventive factors in the healthy development of children and young people are safe, stable and nurturing parent–child and family relationships (Crouch et al., 2018; Moore et al., 2017). By focusing on the link between family relationships and improved social and emotional competencies in these early years, our service aims to contribute to improved outcomes for mental health and wellbeing, and healthy and respectful relationships into the future (ARACY, 2014; Hervatin & Hinkley, 2021). 

Our internal evaluations (2019) indicate improvements in parental confidence, increased access to support, greater social and emotional awareness, and reduced behavioural concerns. In response to evaluation and evolving community need, ‘early matters’ continues to develop and adapt to community needs.

‘early matters’ is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

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