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Separate room approach helping separating couples


Keeping separating couples in separate rooms away from courts while negotiating care of children and division of assets is reaping record results for an an Adelaide mediation program, writes Gabrielle Canny.

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Divorce disputes are making headlines and breaking records in SA and overseas.

While prominent cases – like the settlement reached by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and wife MacKenzie – attract the most attention, growing numbers of separating SA parents are quietly sorting out their disagreements without going to court.

In many cases, they reach agreement without even being in the same room as each other.

A record 83% of couples are now achieving a settlement through an SA family mediation service.

It provides legal representation for each of the parents to help them come to an agreement regarding the care of their children and the division of assets.

This legal aid program assisted almost 900 families in SA last year; a settlement was reached in eight out of ten disputes.

This mediation gets results – but it doesn’t achieve them by bringing people together.

In fact, this program keeps parents apart and uses shuttle-style negotiations to find common ground.

Separate entries, separate rooms

The mediation is called Family Dispute Resolution and it takes place at a secure, purpose-built Adelaide location.

Each parent arrives through a separate entry and goes to a secure room where they 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.

This shuttle-style approach can help many couples reach a solution relatively quickly, instead of having to wait months or years for the matter to be dealt with in court.

It ensures parents get the legal support they need in an environment that is geared towards reaching a settlement rather than slugging it out in court.

It also helps families avoid legal proceedings that are usually expensive and deeply distressing.

Family dispute resolution is all about parents recognising that life must go on after a separation, and that future arrangements must be in the best interests of their children.

Just as importantly, it helps couples reach an out-of-court settlement that they both agree to – rather than having a decision handed down by a judge.

This is good for families, good for courts and good for our wider community.

Gabrielle Canny is Director of the Legal Services Commission of SA, and family law spokesperson at National Legal Aid. 

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