In recent times, the Family Law legal fraternity seems to have a “new” approach to family law litigation, being one that encourages negotiation and settlement between the parties. This approach avoids the uncertainty of having a judge make a decision regarding your family and finances at final hearing and gives control back to the parties.
The Law Society of New South Wales appears to be in a similar frame of mind. The Family Law Courts, NSW Bar Association and the Law Society of NSW have come together to provide a service for parties who are already in the Court system, but have not yet reached final hearing. This is the Family Law Settlement Service (FLSS).
Cases that are eligible for FLSS are those that deal with financial or property settlement, and are at at the post-conciliation conference stage of their proceedings. At this stage, parties can ask the judge after their conciliation conference that they wish to be referred to this service.
The FLSS is run through the Law Society of NSW, and is essentially a final opportunity for mediation between the parties before their matter is run before the judge on a final basis.
There is a fixed fee payable by each party of $990 for a two hour preliminary conference and then a three hour mediation session, with a mediator and their solicitors. These limited costs are much cheaper than proceeding to a final hearing in a Court.
A mediator is appointed who is part of a panel of solicitors and barristers who are also qualified mediators. Any decisions are made between the parties and are not imposed by the mediator, and the parties have the benefit of their solicitors at the sessions to assist in negotiations.
The mediation process employed by FLSS enables parties to be active participants in the decision-making process of their own cases, whilst guided by their solicitors. Such an approach gives control back to the parties as well as certainty and efficiency in the outcomes. If the parties cannot resolve their dispute through this process, the matter will be referred back to Court for final hearing.
However, in our experience, the majority of matters do tend to settle if the parties are given the opportunity to attend mediation or conciliation, making the FLSS a valuable and worthwhile service.
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