On the 1st of September 2021, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court merged, creating a new pathway for parents navigating disputes after separation. The new abbreviated name is the FCFOA.
The purpose of the FCFOA is to create a faster, less stressful process for finalising matters in dispute. The focus is on early resolution by consent through early interventions. There is a strong emphasis on compliance with Orders, and directions of the court, as well as consequences when there is non-compliance. And there is a strong emphasis placed on meeting the needs of the children and child-centered decision making, rather than parent driven conflict.
In essence, this means parents need to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk in the spirit of the Family Law Act.
When functioning as intended, the FCFOA will
- Finalise matters in a timely manner (an aim of within twelve months)
- Save costs through reduced litigation
- Reduce stress on families
- Minimise ongoing conflict
All of this is heartily welcomed here at Parenting After Separation. I see some concerns raised that parents may feel pressured into decison making, or that they will be ‘rushed’ through the system. I don’t feel this is the case. The vast majority of parents report the previous lengthy delays and associated stress of unpredictable outcomes were the most crippling. Something needed to change.
Focus On Resolution
The FCFOA now gives parents two opportunities for mediation. The first remains as it always has, in that you must attempt mediation with a Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) before filing in Court. Under the new court, there is now a requirement that parents be aware that non-attendance at mediation may be factored into court decision-making. Due to family violence risk factors, not all cases are suitable for mediation and this will also be factored.
The second chance at mediation comes after the court process has begun. Once assessing factors in the individual family, the court will make orders for you to attend mediation again in light of the information that has been presented so far. There will be a requirement that clear advice be given to the parties about likely outcomes and the need to reach an agreement at this point, weighed against the costs, time, and stress of continuing through with litigation.
In some instances, parents may be directed to a court-appointed mediator, or if the parties can agree, they can attend a private FDRP of their choice.
What all this means, of course, is that many parties in dispute and going to need to develop the skills to reach an agreement. These skills aren’t always something that comes easily or is natural.
Your mediator is there to ensure that the mediation process is fair and equitable to both parties. What we need from parents to support you in this process, is an ability and willingness to compromise.
Parenting and property disputes are emotionally charged and stimulate some of our deepest fear-based thinking. This tends to create rigidity in mindset and causes a blind spot to alternatives, rather than being able to see the bigger picture.
Empowerment Through Negotiation Skills
Now, more than ever, there is going to be a high need for education and coaching approaching this new court system. The purpose of this is to help prepare the parties, either individually or together, to work through all the ‘what if‘ scenarios. What if they ask for X?; What if I can’t achieve Y?; What if this results in XYZ?. Working through these scenarios in advance helps to process the issues arising in a supportive manner, rather than a bunch of jumbled thoughts in your head that leave you in a deep state of flight or fight.
It also helps to prepare you practically and emotionally for the process ahead so that you can think with more clarity and make decisions that are longer lasting and more likely to be adhered to. Sometimes it helps to have a little groundwork done so that your expectations are realistic and in line with what is considered reasonable.
As I said earlier, negotiation on such deeply personal issues is extremely difficult. Although it’s never really the case, it can help to adopt a more business-like mentality in how you approach a situation. By that, I mean, imagine you want to buy a vehicle and you believe it’s overpriced. The catch is, it’s the only one of its kind and the kids love it. What approach would you take to secure it? You might have to ask to pay it off, ask for an agreement to pay in a month, negotiate the price…There is more than one way to secure what you want with a little effort. This is about thinking outside the box.
Co-parenting Education & Support
The new court system has the capacity to see more clearly the issues and apply appropriate interventions earlier. This means that you are best served to focus only on what’s in your control and let the court do the rest. Always take the higher ground and rise above the conflict where you can.
Keeping perspective can be hard when you’re heavily invested in the outcomes, such as the care of your children. A helping hand to think outside the box and help prioritise decision-making can make all the difference in how you approach these matters.