What is a conciliation conference and what is its significance in the family separation process in Australia? As Australian families navigate the often-uncharted waters of separation, conciliation conferences offer a lifeline, a chance to chart a course towards a future defined by understanding, cooperation, and respect.
Conciliation conferences, however, are not merely a forum for discussion; they are a catalyst for action. Through skillful facilitation, couples are empowered to explore creative solutions tailored to their unique circumstances, addressing issues such as parenting arrangements, child support, and property division.
If you want to know more about what is a conciliation conference, this article is for you!
What Is a Conciliation Conference?
What is a conciliation conference? A Conciliation Conference in Family Law is a court-based mediation process held in Australia. A Registrar of the Court assists the parties in reaching a final agreement about parenting and/or financial matters.
The purpose of a Conciliation Conference is to provide an opportunity for parties to work with a Judicial Registrar to make a genuine effort to settle their dispute, and save the need for further court events, including a trial.
The Conciliation Process
Now that you have an idea of what is a conciliation conference, here is a detailed description of how the family conciliation process works in Australia:
Before the conciliation proper, you must file and serve a Genuine Steps Certificate with your Initiating Application or Response to Initiating Application. These documents confirm that you have made a genuine attempt to resolve matters before coming to the Court.
The Court may order a Conciliation Conference for financial cases, and in some cases, for parenting cases where appropriate. Moreover, the court may also include in the order that you must provide certain court documents such as:
- relevant financial documents
- the party’s three most recent taxation returns and assessments
- profit and loss accounts
- any superannuation documents for each of the party’s superannuation interests
- copies of the last 3 business activity statements lodged, if the party has an Australian Business Number
- recent financial statements, if a party has an interest in a corporation or partnership
Note: Disclose all pertinent facts and supporting documentation in full and honestly when submitting your application. If you don’t, the settlement process may drag out, your expenses may go up, or you may need to reimburse the other party’s expenses. Additionally, it can result in a larger property settlement order in the other party’s favour from the court.
2. Conduct of the Conference
The Registrar, independent from the parties, conducts the conference and assists the parties in exploring options to resolve their dispute. The conference typically takes about 1 to 2 hours, but it can be longer if the Court agrees.
The conference starts with an introduction from the Registrar. He or she will explain their role, what is a conciliation conference, and its purpose. The Registrar may also:
- ask about issues of family violence and whether either person is concerned about negotiating directly with the other person,
- confirm, from the material provided in advance of the conference, the areas of agreement and issues for discussion, and
- answer your questions.
After understanding what is a conciliation conference, you will now proceed to the second phase which involves settlement discussions. The facts and potential points of compromise are the main topics of discussion. When getting ready for the conference, keep these things in mind.
The Registrar will guide you and the other party in attempting to resolve your disagreements by helping you comprehend and consider the implications of any suggestions made. However, the Registrar cannot give legal advice. You must consult legal counsel before the meeting.
Furthermore, the Registrar will help you and your ex-partner talk about how to resolve your conflict during this phase. This might happen individually with each of you or together if it makes sense. At this point, you can talk privately with your attorney if you’d like.
At the final stage of your conciliation conference, the Registrar will:
- make orders reflecting the agreements reached;
- identify any outstanding issues to be addressed in order to reach agreement;
- confirm the next steps and what needs to be done to prepare for them; and
- prepare and place on the Court file a Certificate of Dispute Resolution.
The Registrar won’t pressurise you to choose a course of action. Thus, orders will only be issued and agreements achieved with the concurrence of all parties. Your case will proceed to trial if you are unable to agree.
Additional Information about the Conciliation Process
Apart from knowing what is a conciliation conference, here is some additional information about the conciliation process in Australia:
- Control over the Outcome. Unlike a judge deciding the case for the parties, the Conciliation Conference allows the parties to have control over the outcome, fostering a sense of ownership of the agreement reached.
- Confidentiality. What is said in settlement negotiations during a Conciliation Conference is covered by privilege, meaning that the information cannot be used in court later without the parties’ agreement or waiver.
- Next Steps. If the parties reach an agreement during the Conciliation Conference, the next step may be a procedural hearing or another court event, depending on the circumstances of the case. It’s best to consult a family lawyer before proceeding with your next step.
Family Law Rules to Consider
1. Rule 6.06 Duty of disclosure – Financial proceedings
The rule requires each party to a financial proceeding to make full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances. This includes their earnings, vested or contingent interest in property, income earned by a legal entity fully or partially owned or controlled by a party, other financial resources, and liabilities and contingent liabilities.
2. Central Practice Direction – Family Law Case Management
This outlines the core principles applicable to family law proceedings and establishes a consistent national case management system in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
3. Family Law Practice Direction – Financial Proceedings
The Practice Direction sets out the process for all family law proceedings requesting injunctions under section 114 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (Family Law Act) (financial proceedings) and orders pertaining to property, maintenance, superannuation, and financial agreements under Parts VIII, VIIIA, VIIIAB, and VIIIB.
Seek the Expertise of a Family Lawyer
A conciliation conference is a crucial step in the family law process, offering an opportunity to reach amicable resolutions without resorting to costly and time-consuming court battles.
An experienced family lawyer from JB Solicitors can explain more about what is a conciliation conference. We can also provide you with the guidance, support, and representation you need to ensure your rights are protected and your interests are represented effectively during the conciliation conference. We can offer a family dispute resolution method that works best for your situation.
Contact us today if you need to know the legal principles that are applied in family law cases.