Article

Evaluating the work of Australia's Family Relationship Centres: Evidence from the first 5 years

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Abstract

Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) have been described as a centerpiece of Australia's 2006 family law reforms. This paper places these centres in the larger context of the reforms and their commitment to providing community-based family services in the family law area. The paper also examines the empirical evidence regarding FRCs' use and effectiveness. It notes that while the objectives and intentions of FRCs place considerable emphasis on strengthening family relationships and assisting families to stay together, the centres themselves have only a modest level of direct involvement with intact families. FRCs tend to have strong links with other community-based family services, many of whom are more engaged with intact families; but it is difficult to gauge their effectiveness in this area. Most FRCs' direct services are aimed at separating families and most of that work involves family dispute resolution (family mediation) and associated services such as screening and assessment and the provision of relevant information. A substantial majority of clients who attend FDR at an FRC reach agreement about their parenting arrangements either at FDR or subsequent to attending FDR. These agreements also tend to hold up in the medium term. A majority of parents believe that at FDR, the child(ren)'s needs were taken into account; the parenting agreement worked for the child(ren); and the parenting agreement worked for them. A substantial proportion of FRC clients come from families that have experienced family violence or other dysfunctional behaviours, and such behaviours reduce the chances of resolving parenting disputes. The paper concludes by suggesting that having been created mainly as a default alternative to legal interventions and court processes, it is likely that a major future strength of FRCs will lie in their emerging capacity to work constructively not only with other relationship services and networks, but with family lawyers and the courts.

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... Moreover, putting these services in an agency that serves not only separating parents but also parents who are together would encourage a focus on child well-being and helping all parents. This model is similar to models being implemented in Australia (Moloney et al. 2013) and the United Kingdom (Skinner 2012). ...
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We argue that child support, the central program specifically targeting single-parent families, should increase financial resources for children living with a single parent, with a secondary goal of holding parents responsible for supporting their children. Current child support policy is substantially successful for divorcing families in which the noncustodial parent has at least moderate formal earnings. However, the system does not work well for lower-income families, especially unmarried couples: far too few children regularly receive substantial support and the system is sometimes counterproductive to encouraging parental responsibility. We propose: a public guarantee of a minimum amount of support per child, assurances that no noncustodial parent will be charged beyond their current means, and a broadening of child support services.
... Furthermore, ninety-five percent of clients are satisfied with the process and agreements reached at the centers are lasting. 36 The Family Law Bar can endorse the center concept and establish a goal of creating centers in every community. Lawyers can serve on governing boards and lobby appropriate bodies for necessary regulatory reform and financial support. ...
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... The Family Court has sought to develop a 'less adversarial approach', and family counselling services have been provided within the Family Court of Australia since it was established in 1976. The contribution of counselling professionals has been appreciated by the judiciary and policymakers (Moloney et al, 2013). In 2006, with the objective of improving the uptake of counselling and mediation services, and effecting 'a cultural shift away from litigation and towards co-operative parenting', 71 government funded Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) were established throughout Australia to 'act as highly visible entry points into the service system' (Moloney et al, 2013) -operating within the community and not being linked to litigation. ...
Article
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Until recently few jurisdictions have allowed arbitration of family law disputes, considering such arbitration to be contrary to public policy. But policies favouring private ordering, combined with pressures on family courts have encouraged reconsideration of the policy issues. This is notably true in common law jurisdictions. Similar developments in civil law jurisdictions are inhibited by the wording of national civil codes. Differences in substantive laws and in legal institutions also contribute to diverse assessments of the utility of arbitration: the role of the civil law notary in drawing up and dissolving a matrimonial property regime may be influential in this respect, while competitors to arbitration also include mediation, private judging, and the use of special masters and parenting co-ordinators. Where arbitration has been promoted, its scope has been limited to the financial consequences of divorce in some jurisdictions, while in others it extends also to child arrangements. Policy concerns are addressed through the development of enhanced protection for the parties to arbitration as compared to commercial cases, whether through case law or legislation. Key areas in which this has occurred include: the permissibility of an arbitration (as opposed to a submission) agreement; availability of an appeal or the intensity of review of an award; specification of the qualifications for arbitrators; and specific measures for the protection of children.
... Studies consistently suggest that separating couples who require dispute resolution have higher rates of IPV history in the relationship. For instance, the most comprehensive evaluation of allegations of violence amongst separated Australian couples found that 85% of applicants and respondents in Australia's family courts reported some emotional and/or physical abuse in the relationship during or before the separation (Moloney, Qu, Weston, & Hand, 2013). ...
Article
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Article
en An important limitation to the effectiveness of family mediation in assisting separated parents is parents failing to engage in the mediation process. In 524 parents who presented to a telephone‐based mediation service, 113 (22%) initiating parents withdrew from mediation before the other parent was invited to participate, 241 (46%) initiating parents had respondent parents who declined to participate in mediation, and 170 cases (33%) completed mediation. We tested whether socio‐demographic variables, psychological distress, coparental acrimony, parenting problems, or children's behavioral difficulties predicted mediation engagement. High interparental acrimony predicted failure to engage in mediation, but none of the other variables predicted mediation engagement. We followed a sample of 131 families that did not mediate and found they showed elevated psychological distress, acrimony, parenting problems and child adjustment difficulties, which remained unchanged 6 months later. Further research is needed to explore strategies to enhance respondent parent engagement with mediation, and to address the negative outcomes for those separated families not proceeding with mediation. Abstract es Una limitación importante para la eficacia de la mediación familiar destinada a ayudar a padres separados es que los padres no participan en el proceso de mediación. De 524 padres que se presentaron a un servicio de mediación por teléfono, 113 padres iniciados (el 22%) abandonaron la mediación antes de que el otro padre fuera invitado a participar, 241 padres iniciados (el 46%) tenían padres demandados que se negaron a participar en la mediación, y 170 casos (el 33%) completaron la mediación. Evaluamos si las variables sociodemográficas, el distrés psicológico, la acritud coparental, los problemas de crianza o las dificultades conductuales de los niños predijeron la participación en la mediación. Una elevada acritud interparental predijo la falta de participación en la mediación, pero ninguna de las otras variables predijo la participación en la mediación. Seguimos una muestra de 131 familias que no mediaron y descubrimos que presentaban un elevado distrés psicológico, acritud, problemas de crianza y dificultades de adaptación de los niños. Estos factores permanecieron inalterados seis meses después. Hace falta más investigación para analizar las estrategias orientadas a mejorar la participación de los padres demandados en la mediación así como para abordar los resultados negativos de las familias separadas que no proceden con la mediación. Abstract zh 家庭调解有效性在帮助离异家长的一个重要局限是家长没有参与到调解过程中。在524参与一项电话调解服务的家长中,113 (22%)位发起该调解的家长在另一方被邀请参与前推出调解,而241(46%)位发起该调解的家长面对另一方拒绝参与调解,只有170 (33%)对家长完成调解。我们测试了社会人口变量,心理压力,共同亲职怨愤,亲职问题和儿童行为困难是否会预测调解参与。较高的家长间怨愤预测调解参与失败,然而其他标量不能预测调解参与。我们对131个未参与调解的家庭进行后续追踪,发现其表现出较高的心理困扰,怨愤,亲职问题和儿童适应困难,而这些在6个月后没有改变。我们需要进一步研究在探讨提升应答家长参与调解的策略以及应对为参与调解的离异家庭面对的消极结果。.
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Following the Family Law Amendment (Shared Care Responsibility) Act 2006, Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) were established to offer a range of programs to families, including mediation, following separation. We carried out a qualitative study funded by a non-government organisation which investigated the effectiveness of Parenting Plans. Twenty-three (12 females and 11 males) separated/divorced parents participated in semi-structured interviews conducted in the Perth metropolitan area and a regional area in Western Australia. The focus of this paper is a critical case analysis of one man's experience of the mediation process. Our aim is to contribute to this developing issue through the inclusion of some of the challenges for men in engaging in the mediation process more actively. These include: an examination of the influence of socio-political factors on mediation services; some men's reluctance in seeking help; and recent understandings of men's grief following separation that can have direct application to participation in mediation. We maintain that that this knowledge can inform mediators’ education and training through supervision. At a broader level, the inclusion of this critical case analysis and its theoretical explanations has the potential, in some cases, to contribute to more meaningful post-separation relationships for all family members.
Family therapists often see separating parents who need to agree on co-parenting arrangements. This article provides a guide to current research and practice in family mediation. The limited available research suggests mediation is a useful approach for some separated parents and their children, but often is not successful with highly conflicted parents, parents with mental health problems, parents struggling to accept the separation from their partner, or parents with unrealistic co-parenting expectations. We analyse ways in which mediation might be enhanced, and discuss the potential roles of family therapists to support separating families to negotiate positive co-parenting.
Article
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This article reports on a study of parents’ and children’s responses to the service they received at two Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) in Perth, Western Australia. Family members who had attended either the Mandurah or Joondalup FRCs sponsored by AnglicareWA between 2010 and 2012 were invited to complete a survey that asked them for their views on the services they had received. A total of 74 parents, representing 139 children, completed the survey. Findings indicated significant satisfaction with the twohour group session that introduces the work of the FRCs, with parents reporting they could remember the main messages from the session. A surprising finding, and one that has not been reported elsewhere, is that parents expressed an unwillingness to invite their own children to participate in the work of the Centres, although the majority of the respondents agreed in principle that children should take part. The implications of this finding are briefly discussed.
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Family Relationship Centres formed the centrepiece of major reforms to the family law system in Australia which were introduced from 2006 onwards. They were established all over the country between 2006 and 2008, providing information and advice and offering free or heavily subsidised mediation of parenting disputes. They are an early intervention strategy to help parents manage the transition from parenting together to parenting apart in the aftermath of separation, and are intended to lead to significant cultural change in the resolution of post-separation parenting disputes. They also play a role in strengthening intact family relationships (mainly through advice and referral). This article explains the concept of Family Relationship Centres and how they operate. It also explains the background to their development and how the idea came to be accepted by the Australian Government. Key Points for the Family Court CommunityDescribes the concept of the Australian Family Relationship CentresA community-centric, rather than court-centric, approach to resolving issues of parenting after separationEarly indications of success include a decline of about 32% in the number of children's cases filed in Australia over a five year period.
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This Commentary provides a brief overview of the search for alternatives to the adversarial legal system for separating parents in the United States as a context for understanding the vision and importance of the Australian legislation, and then turns to a consideration of six critical aspects of the 2006 Family Relationship Centres legislation that were essential to ensuring success from the outset. Key Points for the Family Court Community and Policy-makersBold and innovative family law reform in Australia created a new alternative pathway of community-based, non-adversarial services for separating parents with parenting disputes.Family Relationship Centers, the centerpiece of the 2006 reforms, provide a first point of entry with a highly integrated matrix of information, referral, and service options, complemented by national advice and legal information resources for parents.Evaluation of the objectives of the reform legislation indicated a 32% reduction in filings with the Family Court of Australia over five years, increased use of the Family Relationship Centers, reduced use of lawyers for parenting disputes, and significant reduction in costs to the Government for services.This structure and success of this early intervention service model should be of considerable interest to policy-makers in other countries.
Article
As a centrepiece of Australia's 2006 family law reforms, the community-based Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) represented a major development in the Government's commitment to incorporate family relationship services into its family law system. This paper sees FRCs as a logical development of the original conceptualising the Family Court of Australia as a “helping court”. The paper suggests that the aspiration to create a helping court was partially achieved in 1976 via the creation of an in-house family court counselling service, which was primarily focused not on law and legal principles, but on supporting the ways in which family members were managing the task of redefining relationships. While generally valued by judges and others, this service nonetheless found itself in tension with the Family Court's continued primary commitment to legally informed and adversarially driven negotiation and decision-making processes. Since 2006, the creation of FRCs has spearheaded a family law system that provides relationship-focused interventions away from the courts as the default option for most parenting disputes. Consistent with this aim, there is evidence of a diminished percentage of cases now requiring judicial intervention. The 2006 legislation also provides for courts to conduct “less adversarial trials.” Paradoxically, this has occurred alongside unequivocal evidence from the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ evaluation data that judicial officers are dealing mainly with families displaying seriously dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours. The legal challenge in dealing with these cases is for courts to provide child focused, fair and non-destructive internal processes. In addition, however, it is increasingly clear that to support and help facilitate their decisions, courts also need good working relationships with FRCs and other community based services. FRCs and the 2006 reforms offer the possibility of moving beyond the ideal of a “helping court” to the broader concept of helping family law system.
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Child custody presumptions have formed part of Anglo-American law for centuries. Both the paternal preference rule at common law and the tender years doctrine that supplanted it in the nineteenth century signaled the law's conviction that custody was indivisible: after a marital breakup, children could be entrusted to only one parent, with the other an infrequent visitor. This “rule of one” began to weaken in the last third of the twentieth century, as the movement toward gender equality called attention to the importance of both parents in the care and nurturance of children and loosened the link between gender and parenting role. Left without a presumption to direct their custody deliberations, courts turned—often by legislative fiat—to the more inclusive but less definitive best interests standard. Although sole custody decrees were still the norm, some courts began to see in joint custody an opportunity for a child to continue a strong and meaningful relationship with both parents. Courts, legislatures, and commentators are changing the vocabulary of child custody to reflect the evolving reality of twenty-first century family life. Parental responsibilities after separation or divorce are increasingly referred to as “decision-making” instead of “legal custody” and as “parenting time” in lieu of “physical custody.” Calls for a 50/50 joint parenting time/physical custody presumption have sparked controversy. In some states, legislation already aims to ensure frequent and continuing parent–child contact with no specific temporal sharing formula. But putting any of these presumptions into effect in light of the statutory “best interests” concerns make the court's task—absent parental agreement—extremely complex. The interplay of domestic violence and “friendly parent” provisions with joint custody presumptions pose another array of complicating factors. Context is critical in assessing these statutory choices, on which no consensus currently exists. The task now is to avoid using the hard edge of legal presumptions to undermine the lived experience of children, while at the same time circumventing the perils of unpredictable case-by-case determinations unguided by presumptions or preferences. The most promising efforts chart a third course: nudging separating and divorcing parents into a framework that encourages them to implement shared parenting. Shifting the parental focus from litigating custody to jointly crafting a parenting plan also may serve to alleviate the worst aspects of the trauma children often experience when their parents break up.Key Points for the Family Court Community:Until recently, child custody presumptions adhered to a “rule of one”: courts generally insisted that only one parent could properly be awarded child custody.Child custody law is moving toward a norm of shared parenting, with frequent and continuing contact provided for each parent.Legal terminology is also shifting to encourage collaborative parenting. “Decision-making” is replacing “legal custody,” and “physical custody” is giving way to “parenting time.”A legal presumption of joint custody may mean no more than a generalized shared parenting arrangement, but applying the emerging statutes and case law to award joint custody can involve a quite complex determination process.Shifting the parental focus from litigating custody to implementing a shared parenting plan may avoid the pitfalls of litigating under the “best interests” standard either with or without a legal presumption.
Article
This paper extends on existing models of child-inclusive family dispute resolution, as conducted in Family Relationship Centres. A safety assessment approach to this work has been developed in response to the complex client group presenting at Family Relationship Centres where child safety issues are commonplace. When the case is not suitable for dispute resolution due to safety concerns, the model proposes that children should still be supported through a safe consultation process, and feedback provided to the protective parent. The model highlights the need for Family Relationship Centres to develop the skills to screen and advocate for the child at risk, a philosophical commitment to hearing the voice of the child at risk, and the capacity to follow through with a timely intervention and referral.
Article
This report describes the second stage of research to investigate culturally responsive family dispute resolution (FDR). The research aimed to identify the perspectives of FDR professionals about what would support them to develop a culturally responsive service and practice. The research used mixed methods: a survey and interviews with professionals. The findings demonstrate a high level of self-reported cultural responsiveness by FDR professionals, and a very strong desire to extend this capacity. The strategies suggested as most useful to deepen their understanding of culture in FDR involved collaborative conversations with their colleagues and with people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The research identifies effective, service-centred professional development activities to support and sustain this development.
Article
Since 2006, the majority of separated and separating parents are mandated to attend family dispute resolution (FDR) before approaching the Court. The Family Law Act also requires, by s.65F, that Family Counselling occur prior to the Court making final parenting orders.The Family Law Act makes specific provision for confidentiality and privilege of communications that occur in both FDR and family counselling. However, the rigorous protection of confidentiality in such processes, previously given by legislative and public policy bases, is waning and challenges are increasingly made to read down the level of privilege attached to such processes.Recent case law has exposed serious defects in the drafting of confidentiality and privilege provisions of the Act and especially as they relate to FDR and this paper will explore that case law and implications for practice.
Article
Current provisions of the Family Law Act provide confidentiality and inadmissibility only to joint sessions of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). It is submitted that the entire process of FDR from the client’s first contact with the service to termination of FDR (save for a few exceptions) should be confidential and inadmissible. This article provides a practical contextual commentary from the view point of an FDR practitioner who is both a psychologist and lawyer.
Article
In June 2009, the Commonwealth Attorney General in Australia announced a Family Relationship Centres/ Legal Assistance Partnerships Program, (the “Better Partnerships” program). Its aim was to assist separated or separating families, “by providing access to early and targeted legal information and advice when attending Family Relationship Centres” (McClelland, 2009). After contextualizing this significant shift in policy and practice, the present paper reports on largely positive key results of an evaluation of the program by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The paper concludes with reflections on future challenges and possibilities regarding ongoing collaboration between Australia's legal and family relationship sectors.
Article
Family Relationship Centres form the centrepiece of a major new overhaul of the family law system in Australia. The Centres, which will be established in major population centres all over the country by 2008, have a number of different functions. The Centres will have five major roles: information, advice and referral to services which can strengthen relationships; the provision of seminars, individual advice and free mediation when parents separate; assistance in resolving ongoing disputes about post-separation parenting arrangements; assistance to grandparents; and help in resolving child support issues. The author, who was involved in the development of the concept of Family Relationship Centres, explains the background to the proposal and how the Centres are intended to lead to cultural change in the resolution of disputes about parenting after separation.
Details of this survey can be found at
  • Kaspiew
Details of this survey can be found at Kaspiew et al. (2009, p. 21).
Table 3.12, p. 45) for a detailed breakdown of the figures discussed in this and the following paragraph
  • Multiple
  • See
  • Kaspiew
Multiple responses were permitted. See Kaspiew et al. (2009, Table 3.12, p. 45) for a detailed breakdown of the figures discussed in this and the following paragraph.
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