A Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner or Mediator is a neutral third party who assists people to resolve their disputes.

Britt Smith is the Principal Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner at Illawarra Family Law Mediation. Britt became a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner because she wanted to provide families with an alternative to court. Britt has been a family lawyer for many years and has seen the emotional and financial toll that litigation has on families.

Mediation can help people avoid the family law system or leave it on their own terms. Illawarra Family Law Mediation is a business devoted to helping people achieve this.

Britt holds the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Medical Science & Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (UOW)
  • Graduate Diploma in Law (USYD)
  • Graduate Diploma in Family Dispute Resolution (College of Law)
  • Master of Applied Law (Family Law) (College of Law)

Britt is a member of the Law Society of NSW, the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators, and the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia. Britt is appointed to the Legal Aid panel for General Family Law and the Independent Children’s Lawyer Panel. In addition to Family Law, Britt practices in Care and Protection (child welfare matters involving Community Services), Wills and Estates, and Conveyancing.

We have a number of mediators and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners that provide their services through Illawarra Family Law Mediation. We ensure that if you have a parenting matter, your mediation will be conducted by a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) authorised to issue Section 60I certificates. We only subcontract FDRPs and mediators who are also family lawyers so that you know the person conducting your mediation has relevant family law experience.

Our Process

Why Mediate?

Pre-action Procedures and Section 60I certificates

If you have a Family Law dispute, there are pre-action procedures outlined at Schedule 1 of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021. There are some circumstances where complying with the pre-action procedures may not be possible, such as in circumstances of urgency. However, in most cases it is expected that you will comply with the pre-action procedures.

The pre-action procedures outline that if you cannot reach an agreement, you are to make enquiries about, and attend dispute resolution, where it is safe to do so. This is why many people attend mediation.

If you wish to file an application for parenting orders, unless an exemption applies you will need a Section 60I certificate which can only be issued by a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner registered with the Attorney General’s Department. If you wish to file any application in Family Law, you must file a Genuine Steps Certificate which outlines which pre-action procedures you completed.

The Family Court encourages the use of dispute resolution

In September 2021 the Family Law System was overhauled and a new Central Practice Direction with Core Principles was released. Core Principle 5 outlines the importance of Dispute Resolution. The Court encourages the use of Dispute Resolution Procedures before filing any court application. After a court application is filed, people are expected to be proactive in identifying the appropriate time and way to participate in Dispute Resolution to increase the chance of them exiting the court system without the need for a contested final hearing.

Mediation is quicker than litigation

Mediation can be arranged quite quickly subject to the availability of the mediator and the parties. If you file a court application, the court aims to list the first court date about 1-2 months after filing. Mediation can be arranged sooner than that. You can also arrange multiple mediations within the time your matter waits for a final hearing date which could be in excess of 12 months from the date you file your application.

Mediation is more cost effective than litigation

It is not an exaggeration to say that a family law matter from commencement to conclusion of final hearing often starts at $60,000-$80,000 in legal fees for a fairly standard matter. When you compare these figures to the cost of dispute resolution, it makes sense to try mediation.

Multiple options for attendance

Mediation can be face to face, by video conference or telephone. Parties can be in the room, or on the line, at the same time. Parties can be kept separate for the entire mediation if that is preferred or required.

Certainty of start time

A court operates between about 9.00am and 4.30pm on weekdays. Your matter is often in a list with multiple other matters and you don’t know if your matter will be called first, in the middle, or last. A mediation allows you the certainty of booking the date and time where your matter – and only your matter – will be discussed.

Updating agreements when there is a change in circumstances

Some parties will book one full day mediation. For other people, multiple shorter mediations may be more suitable over a number of months.

A common example we see is parties mediating very soon after separation and putting a temporary arrangement in place until both of them figure out where they will be living longer term. After their living arrangements formalise, they attend another mediation to settle matters on a final basis.

Another example is parents of very young children often mediate every 6 months as the needs of a 6-week-old are very different to the needs of a 6-month-old. Multiple mediations over time allow the parties to update their parenting arrangements to best meet the needs of their children.

Flexibility of process

Mediation can also be tailored to your needs. We can accommodate a whole range of matters including people who need regular breaks due to a health condition. Although we usually start mediation at 10.00am or 2.00pm, if you need a different start time, we can arrange that in consultation with the parties.

Confidentiality

Everything said in mediation is confidential (except the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner is a mandatory reporter). There are no strangers sitting in the back of the room listening to your matter like in an open Family Court room.

You have more control over the outcome

If you agree to a settlement, you have control over what happens. If you go to a final hearing, a Judge who doesn’t know you will impose a decision on you.

Our Process

Intake

When you contact us, we will send you an intake form to complete. The intake form helps us to decide if mediation is suitable, what mediation process is suitable for you, and provides the background information that will help the mediator prepare for mediation. It is during the intake process that you will let us know if you need a mediation about children’s matters, property matters or other family law matters.

We rarely issue Section 60I certificates in parenting matters without speaking to both parties. It may be the case that when one person contacts us, we deem mediation unsuitable. However, we feel that in most cases, we should contact the other party and hear both sides before making a final decision about suitability.

If mediation is deemed unsuitable, we will notify the parties and in parenting matters, issue the appropriate Section 60I certificate.

Invitation to mediation

Once we receive your intake form, we send an invitation to the parties to the mediation. Usually this is the parents of a child or the former spouses in a relationship. However, there may be third parties that need to be invited. We have conducted mediations involving grandparents and other significant people in children’s lives. In property matters, you may need to invite a third party who would be affected by any orders about your property, such as co-owner on the title of a property.

If a person does not respond to the invitation to mediation, we notify the parties.

In a parenting matter, we must send at least 2 invitations to the other party and one of those invitations is to be in writing. If they do not respond to the invitation, we issue the appropriate Section 60I certificate. We cannot issue a Section 60I certificate if you have not given us at least one way of sending an invitation in writing.

Determining the form of mediation

Once we speak to the parties, we determine what form of mediation is suitable. Many mediations will take the form of starting with a joint session, breaking out into private sessions and then potentially returning to the joint session. However, we can modify that process if we think it will better assist the parties. Some examples are:

  1. We decide if face to face mediation, video conference or telephone mediation is suitable. During COVID-19 restrictions we have favoured video conferencing. We would also offer video conferencing if the parties are in regional areas and want to avoid lengthy travel.
  2. If a person has concerns about their safety, or they feel nervous, we can conduct a ‘shuttle’ mediation. This is where the parties do not have contact with each other. The mediator goes back and forth between the parties conducting the mediation in separate sessions.
  3. Offering Child Inclusive Mediation in parenting matters. Child Inclusive Mediation is where all people with parental responsibility consent to the child being interviewed by a social worker or psychologist. The social worker or psychologist then attends the mediation to feed back the views and wishes of the child in the mediation. This is not a common form of mediation and tends to only be suitable with older children.
  4. If a party wishes to bring a support person, we can speak to the parties about support people attending. We prefer parties to attend by themselves (or with their lawyers) however there are some situations where a support person will be approved. A common example is an NDIS support worker assisting their client.

Arranging the date and time for mediation

The mediator will liaise with all parties, solicitors and support persons where relevant to arrange a date and time suitable to everyone. The mediation will then be diarised and everyone will receive a confirmation email.

Attending the mediation

The mediator will start by explaining to the parties the broad process for the day.

Each party will then be asked to briefly outline the list of topics they wish to discuss at mediation. This is called an ‘Opening Statement’. You can talk about as many issues as you like at mediation. Our mediators are well versed in all aspects of Family Law including but not limited to parenting, property, child support, spousal maintenance and contravention issues.

Once opening statements are completed, the mediator will assist the parties to discuss the issues and generate options to resolve their dispute.

During mediation, there may be private sessions between each party and the mediator. During these private sessions the mediator will work with you to reality test the options that have been discussed.

At the end of a mediation, if the parties have reached an agreement, there will be a discussion about how to record that agreement. If no agreement has been reached, then the mediator will facilitate discussions about what steps may need to take place before the parties can reach an agreement.

After mediation

After the mediation, you will receive an email with a Section 60I certificate in a parenting matter, a Certificate of Dispute Resolution if your matter is in court, and your tax invoice.

Fees

How much do you charge?

There are potentially 3 components to your invoice:

  1. Intake

We charge a lump sum of $250 plus GST for intake. Intake is the process of each party providing the mediator with preliminary information so that the mediator can make an assessment of whether mediation is suitable and prepare for the mediation.

If mediation is not suitable in a parenting matter, we issue the Section 60I certificate at this stage

2. Mediation

If mediation is assessed as suitable, in addition to the intake fee we charge $250 plus GST per hour for the mediation. We charge a minimum of 2 hours as the mediator has to reserve time in their diary. Thereafter you are billed to the nearest half hour

3. Room Hire and travel (if needed)

We offer video conference and telephone mediations at no extra charge.

If you would prefer a face to face mediation, in addition to the above, you may also be charged a room hire fee.

If you (or your solicitor) has a conference room or professional office available, we can attend that office. Otherwise, if a room is to be hired, the fee is to be paid by the parties.

If we are required to travel out of the Illawarra, we quote on a case by case basis.

Why don’t you charge a lump sum?

We find that each mediation is different and can vary in length.

We try to not book other commitments at the end of a mediation. We aim to avoid situations where parties have scheduled to finish the mediation at 1.00pm, an offer is made at 12.55pm and the other party only has 5 minutes to consider that offer. Sometimes these time pressures are unavoidable. However, we feel that by billing based on time, and where possible giving the parties the option of continuing the mediation until it comes to a natural end, is the fairest way to do things.

Do the parties share the cost?

We ask that the parties share the costs of mediation equally.

Do you charge a different rate for property matters?

No. You are paying for the mediator’s time and charge the same rate for parenting, property, and combined issues mediations.

What happens if I cannot afford mediation?

If one party says they cannot afford our services, we offer the other party the option to pay all of the fees. The other party does not have to pay all of the fees, but it is an option.

If you cannot afford our services, you do not have to attend as mediation is a voluntary process. However, if you cannot afford our services, we may still have to issue a Section 60I certificate in parenting matters that says you did not attend. In that situation, we encourage you to send an email explaining why you cannot attend. We can provide you with details for the local Family Relationships Centre.

What if I bring a solicitor?

You are solely responsible for the fees of your own solicitor and or barrister.

Do I have to bring my lawyer to mediation?

No. It is not mandatory to bring lawyers to mediation.

If you do not bring a lawyer, we ask that people consider if they want to obtain legal advice prior to them attending mediation or prior to them signing any settlement agreements.

If you want to bring your lawyer, you are more than welcome to do so. We ask that you notify us in advance so that we can liaise with you and your lawyer in relation to dates that you are available to attend mediation.

Contact Us

Get in Touch

We want to hear from you!

Email:

email@illawarrafamilylawmediation.com.au

This is the best way to contact us.
We can answer any of your questions, send you an intake form and provide our available dates for mediation.

Phone:

0409 424 849

Please note that we do not answer text message enquiries.

Hours:

Monday to Friday – 9am to 5pm

Mediations that commence or conclude outside of office hours are subject to the availability of the mediator.

Weekend mediations are considered on a case-by-case basis and incur a 20% surcharge.

Find Us

Street address:

Suite 5, 104 Railway Street, Corrimal NSW 2518

Postal address:

PO Box 520, Corrimal NSW 2518

Please send all mail to the PO Box.

We are based in the Illawarra but can provide video conference and telephone mediation services anywhere in Australia.