The Mystery of FDR: Common Questions and Misconceptions

Written by Keri Morris

In my role, I am lucky enough to spend some time on the road meeting with community groups and family lawyers. I am always surprised by some of the myths and misconceptions out there about Family Dispute Resolution (FDR), and glad that I have had an opportunity to chat to these groups and in some cases, set the record straight. Here are some of the common questions and myths that I have encountered about FDR.

My party wants their children’s voices heard – which Supplier should I send them too?

All FDR providers have a requirement to ensure that parties focus on reaching an agreement that is in the welfare and best interest of all the children involved in the dispute s11(2)(c). Part of the screening and assessment process, and the initial meetings with the mediator include a discussion about how parents would like their children’s voice to be heard in the mediation. This may occur by having an aunt and uncle attend at no cost, having a child’s counsellor attend (which the parties pay for) or having the mediator meet with the child/ren (utilising some of the 12 hours allowed for the mediation time). If a mediator is to meet with a child, FairWay has a number of guidelines, such as all meetings must be agreed by both parents in writing, and all plans are discussed with a Duty Mediator prior to ensure that a safe process is in place for the child. 

Lawyers can’t attend FDR mediation

At FairWay, we have no issue with parties bringing their lawyers with them to FDR mediation. Currently, unless a judge has directed for the parties’ lawyers to attend, there is no funding for this and so parties will need to pay for this themselves. From our Court directed cases, statistics tell us that when a judge directs lawyer for child to attend, this is helpful in seeing parties reach agreement.

People don’t get any legal advice in FDR

Eligible parties can access the Family Legal Advice Service (FLAS) prior to and following FDR. We strongly encourage this when they engage with us at FairWay as mediators are unable to give legal advice and many of the parties coming through FairWay do make use of FLAS.

There are too many delays getting to FDR

Over four years ago, when the service was first established, there were many delays as Suppliers and the country were coming to grips with a whole new way of operating. Now there are seldom delays and families are getting to mediation well within the requirements set out by the Ministry of Justice.

Parenting Through Separation is required before FDR

Parties can attend FDR and start the FDR process before attending Parenting Through Separation (PTS). The Ministry of Justice’s Operational Guidelines are quite clear on the fact. While encouraged, PTS is not a requirement before FDR. In fact, sometimes it may even become part of the Mediated Agreement that both parents will attend PTS following mediation but before they return to review an agreement.

FDR is too hard to get into

Accessing FDR can often be confusing for parties and referrers alike. Sometimes when a case has been directed from a judge to attend FDR, parties and lawyers believe that one of the Suppliers will know and that the case will be picked up. Unless this occurs in one of the Courts in which FDR has a presence on family list days, a Supplier is unlikely to know and the onus is usually on a party to contact a Supplier. Parties or lawyers can contact FairWay by registering online for FDR, calling us on 0800 774 420 or emailing us at fdr@fairwayresolution.com.  We even get referrals via our Facebook page. 

If parties have initiated Court proceedings, they can’t attend FDR

Parties can still come to FDR even if they have started the Court process. We have had many cases whereby parties are waiting for a hearing and both agree to come to FDR. 

Are parties eligible for free service if they are directed back to FDR by the a Judge?

There has been some confusion over whether or not parties need to pay if they are directed to attend FDR by a judge, particularly when parties have attended FDR previously.

If parties have already attended FDR and they are directed to attend again within 12 months, those who are eligible for a government funded service can access additional hours without charge and those who are not eligible for a government funded service are required by the Ministry to pay the fee of $448.50 again.

Funding eligibility testing for FDR includes income from new partners

No – the funding eligibility testing only considers the income of the parent of the child who is central to the dispute. It does not consider assets, nor debts. Parties who are granted a government funded service never have to pay this back.

Parties are being exempted from FDR because they don’t want to pay

Recent findings released from the Ministry of Justice show that this was not a primary reason for parties not wanting to attend FDR. FDR is mandatory for most people going on to the Family Court. If a party is not eligible for funding, FairWay will explain the process and any applicable costs to the party. Most parties are willing to undertake FDR as they understand that it will support them to resolve matters in a timely and cost-efficient way. We also explain that if their dispute is suitable for mediation then they will need to complete FDR before Court proceedings can move forward, as a judge might direct you back to FDR once you get to the Family Court.  

FDR only works if parents live in the same town or city

We provide FDR in many different ways and regularly provide FDR to parents in different parts of the country and even where one parent resides overseas. We don’t require parents to travel. We make the most of technology and have mediators who are proficient and confident in conducting mediations in this way – it’s no barrier for us.

Preparation for Mediation (PFM) is just a fancy new phrase for counselling

PFM is a newly formed service – it’s a mixture of support work and coaching - to help people get ready for mediation. Sometimes, previous history, behaviours and emotions can get in the way of finding a solution during a mediation. FairWay’s PFM providers (accredited mediators and counsellors) prepare individuals with tools to get the most from mediation. This usually involves helping people to understand their own behaviours, and developing strategies to assist them in the mediation.These practical skills help the individuals to better manage their relationship with the other party at the mediation and in the future.

My clients are both deaf so FDR couldn’t work

We have mediated successfully with profoundly deaf parties, and have mediated with a party who was both deaf and blind. We have mediated with many families with a wide range of challenges.

If a parent is in Prison then FDR is not appropriate

FairWay still considers mediation if a parent is in prison (not if a party is on remand). We have worked with the Department of Corrections and Pillars to set up a service and help provide a connection for children of prisoners.

FDR has to be in the same room for any chance of success

FairWay mediators work with families to provide mediation in the way that works best for them. If parties need mediation in separate rooms, then we can provide shuttle mediation, or mediation in separate building by telephone or video conferencing. We have done mediation in people’s homes, in offices, on Marae, in churches and other venues. We work with families to design a process that is safe and suitable for the family we are working with and includes the people that need to be included.

My client is receiving abusive text messages from her ex so FDR is not appropriate

FairWay undertake a thorough screening and assessment process before allowing a case to proceed to mediation. Each case is overseen by a Duty Mediator. Most parties also undertake Preparation for Mediation (PFM) and if a PFM provider can advise the Duty Mediator if new information arises and they believe that a party is at risk and that the case shouldn’t proceed any further. Before any joint mediation meeting occurs our mediators also meet with each party individually and can exempt a case from mediation at any point.

Want to know more?

To find out more about Family Dispute Resolution please click here or call us on 0800 774 420.