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‘Dispute resolution outside the court has taken off in Australia’

Whilst nearly 50 per cent of all married couples in Australia are still getting divorced, settling disputes outside of the legal system has grown in popularity in the family law sphere.

user iconLauren Croft 17 November 2022 SME Law
‘Dispute resolution outside the court has taken off in Australia’
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“Divorce without court” is becoming more prevalent in the family law sector, with collaborative practices more in demand than ever before.

At the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) conference: Share the Collaborative Magic recently, the co-founders of Australian collaborative law firm MELCA were invited to present their working model, following the IACP’s nomination for a Nobel peace prize.

The firm’s model brings together a range of interdisciplinary teams made up of family lawyers, psychologists, financial planners, mediators and other social scientists as needed to ensure an amicable divorce — reducing trauma for children of separating families.


In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, MELCA co-founder and IACP board member Tricia Peters said that in terms of divorce and other family law matters, mediation and collaboration are the way forward.

“While a small proportion of people who separate do need the court to make decisions for them, most people are capable of making good agreements about money and children, agreements that meet the unique needs of their family, using collaboration or mediation. Collaboration and mediation are processes that enable post-separation healing and enable people to move on in their lives in a short time,” she explained.

“Collaboration and mediation are designed to look at underlying factors, such as conflict style, communication, couple dynamics, family systems and the emotional capacity of clients. The result of de-emphasising law is that clients are able to have discussions that are important to them in a way that promotes genuine resolution rather than mere settlement.”

Practices like these benefit not only the clients themselves — but also children in family law matters, who tend to get caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict in the legal system.

“We have seen couples share celebrations for the first time in years after working in collaboration; we have seen their communication improve and sometimes even a rebuilding of trust, particularly associated with money and finances,” Ms Peters added.

“There is a real difference between people understanding and owning their own decisions and being forced to a settlement at the door of the court or after months of written negotiations between lawyers. In both of those cases, emotional and costs fatigue have a disproportionate effect on people signing off on settlements.”

As working in more collaborative ways grows on a global scale, MELCA has delivered training on their process around the world, in addition to speaking at the IACP recently — and have recently launched MELCA Academy to train other practitioners.

“Globally, there are increasing numbers of practitioners drawn to working in collaborative divorce as they see the positive outcomes and benefits to clients by working together,” Ms Peters added.

“We have a described process, showing the client journey from start to finish, which is unusual within collaborative communities. One of our hallmarks is providing our clients with an interdisciplinary intake to enable them to understand the role of each of the team members being lawyer, psychologist and a financial planner.”

Collaborative practices like these ones have become more and more popular in Australia, as well as around the world, according to Ms Peters.

“Dispute resolution outside the court has taken off in Australia. The main reason has been the government funding and promotion of mediation, and the recent requirement of the Family Court for people to make a genuine effort to settle property disputes without resorting to litigation.

“Collaborative divorce has not had the same uptake as mediation in Australia, and MELCA’s 500 cases over the last decade make it a stand-out amongst Australia’s collaborative communities,” she said.

“We now see that the tide is turning, and our observation is that there are increasing numbers of collaboratively trained practitioners and collaborative divorce cases happening around the country. People are coming to understand that collaborative divorce, involving interdisciplinary teams, can support much more complex family and financial situations than mediation can do.”