At a purpose-built facility in Adelaide, lawyers representing parents meet with a chairperson to work through the issues that the couple is experiencing. The most recent figures to be released about the success rate of the South Australian program show that the program is working.
Family mediation offered by SA’s legal aid service increased by 22 per cent in the past year, with 79 per cent of disputes successfully resolved away from the courts. The figures were included in the annual report for the state’s Legal Services Commission (LSC) that was recently tabled in State Parliament.
LSC director Gabrielle Canny (pictured) said the legal aid service was assisting parents who wished to separate with an alternative to what could be expensive and distressing court proceedings.
“We’re seeing record demand for this service. Almost 1,000 SA couples took part in the program last year.
“In four out of five of those matters, we’ve been able to help them reach a settlement about the care of their children,” Ms Canny said.
She explained that the resolution service offered a structured forum to address conflict. Using ‘shuttle-style’ dispute resolution methods, each parent arrives through a separate entry and goes to a secure room where they are able to discuss the dispute with their lawyer.
“The lawyers for each parent then meet in another room where they work through the issues with a chairperson who has qualifications in law and in Family Dispute Resolution. Throughout this process, each parent is regularly consulted by their lawyer and the chairperson,” Ms Canny said.
“This shuttle-style approach can help many couples reach a solution relatively quickly – rather than having to wait months or years for the matter to be dealt with in court.”
Last financial year the LSC conducted 953 sessions with families in dispute, compared to a total of 780 disputes the year before. On the national front, nearly 16,000 Australian parents were recorded as participating in less than 8,000 legal aid family dispute resolution sessions.
“Family Dispute Resolution helps couples reach an out-of-court settlement that they both agree to – rather than having a decision handed down by a judge,” Ms Canny said.
“However, this service is not for everyone. We carefully assess a couple’s circumstances, and check for factors such as the presence of domestic violence, before commencing a dispute resolution process.”