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Pre-action procedures: Family dispute resolution for parenting disputes

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Requirements before going to court for parenting orders

Except when filing consent orders, when starting court proceedings, separated parents must file a family dispute resolution certificate with their application. This certificate proves they have attended (or attempted) to resolve the matter amicably with the assistance of a family dispute resolution practitioner.

A family dispute resolution certificate is unneeded with proof that:

  • There has been an abuse of the child by one of the parties to the proceedings or risk of abuse;
  • There has been family violence by one of the parties or a threat of family violence;
  • There has been a contravention application, provided all the following points apply:
    • The application relates to a particular issue;
    • The contravened order is not more than 12 months old; and
    • The contravener has shown a serious disregard for their obligations under the order;
  • It’s an urgent application; or
  • One of the parties cannot effectively participate in family dispute resolution.

Mandatory pre-action steps

The parties must fully and frankly disclose, which may involve providing all information relevant to the disputed issues, including medical reports, school reports, letters, drawings, and photographs.

Documents must only serve to resolve or determine the dispute to which its disclosure relates. There is an implied undertaking by all parties to that effect.

Participation in dispute resolution

To get started, separated parents should invite the other parent to participate in dispute resolution. Further information is available on the Family Relationships website.

The parents must agree on a dispute resolution service and genuinely try to resolve the dispute by participating in dispute resolution.

When the matter settles at the dispute resolution conference, consent orders can finalise the agreement between the parents.

Family violence and other risks – The Lighthouse Project

The Lighthouse Project is a program available in some registries to assist families that have experienced family violence and other safety risks in navigating the family law system. It will operate in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries.

The project includes:

  • early risk screening through a secure online platform;
  • early identification and management of safety concerns; and
  • assessment and triage of cases by a specialised team, who will provide resources and safe and suitable case management.

All high-risk cases will pass to the Evatt List, which focuses on early information gathering and intervention through a judge-led support team.

Practice Direction No. 3 of 2020 – Lighthouse Project and Evatt List sets out the procedure and the commencement dates for the three registries mentioned above.

See The Lighthouse Project on the Family Court website for more information.

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Luke Shanahan Family Law

Luke Shanahan


Luke Shanahan is the Principal Solicitor of Shanahan Family Law. Luke has been practising family law since 2008 and started his firm in 2014. He has three beautiful daughters and a supportive, gorgeous wife. In his spare time, Luke enjoys playing tennis and trips to the beach with family and friends. 

Luke is dedicated to providing the best possible legal representation for his clients. His experience and passion for family law set him apart from other solicitors. You only have to read their 5-star reviews to understand that.

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