Published: 01 April, 2023

Media Release: Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia wins national award for Alternative Dispute Resolution initiatives

At the Australian Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Awards held on Friday 31 March 2023, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 1 and Division 2) received national recognition for the Courts’ innovative and ground-breaking integration of safe dispute resolution into the family law system, winning the Courts and Tribunals - Alternative Dispute Resolution Group of the Year.

Receiving the award on behalf of the Courts on Friday night, Deputy Chief Justice Robert McClelland said that the award provides due recognition by one of Australia’s leading dispute resolution organisations, of the transformative work that the Courts’ have undertaken to ensure that the safe resolution of disputes is at the core of family law matters.

“Most importantly, it is an acknowledgment of the benefits that these changes have had on the many thousands of families that engage with the courts each year. The Courts’ focus on dispute resolution, where it is safe to do so, has allowed significant numbers of separated families to find agreement and closure, and to avoid the emotional and financial costs associated with protracted litigation,” Deputy Chief Justice McClelland said.

Mr David Pringle, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar said that the Courts require parties to genuinely attempt to settle disputes before filing and then consistently work towards opportunities for resolution.

“In addition to offering significant dispute resolution conferences in financial matters, the Courts have developed a highly sophisticated and successful model to support parents and other care givers to reach safe, practical and lasting agreements without recourse to trial.

“Many families that come before the Courts face challenges associated with domestic and family violence, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues and social and financial disadvantage. Prior to the new approach to dispute resolution, families in this situation had no opportunity to engage in court based conferences to safely negotiate outcomes that could provide certainty and reduce conflict for their children.

“To address this need, the Courts have developed a specialised co-mediation model drawing on the expertise of the Registrars and Court Child Experts (CCE). The multidisciplinary model harnesses the legal and mediation skills of the Courts’ Registrars together with the invaluable social science expertise of the CCEs to deliver a comprehensive model that is able to place the best interests of the child at the heart of every dispute, and to address the considerable complexities present in many parenting disputes.

“In the past 12 months, the Courts have offered families with complex needs over 5,000 dispute resolution conferences with high settlement rates despite the complex nature of the cases,” Mr Pringle added.

Leading the development and implementation of the Courts’ dispute resolution initiatives is Senior Judicial Registrar and Executive Director – National Registrar Operations and Practice, Ms Anne-Marie Rice.

“The interdisciplinary dispute resolution model applied in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia invites parties to consider realistic solutions to their dispute. By taking a deeply respectful, safety focussed view of dispute resolution, the Courts are leading fundamental change where dispute resolution is at the heart of what we do.

“The resolution revolution, which has provided ongoing benefits to thousands of Australian families, could not have occurred so successfully within the court context without beneficial engagement with the legal profession, and they are to be commended for their cooperation and support of the Courts’ objective to achieve safe and meaningful resolution to family law disputes,” Senior Judicial Registrar Rice added.