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What is a Conciliation Conference in the Family Law Courts?

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Early on during proceedings for property settlement in the Family Law Courts, parties will be required to attend a Conciliation Conference, a Court ordered mediation presided over by a Registrar of the Family Court.  In some circumstances where the parties’ asset pool is significant, the Court may also order that a private mediation occur in substitution for a Conciliation Conference.

A Conciliation Conference is an opportunity for parties to litigation to try and reach a final settlement by agreement and avoid committing the significant legal fees required to run a final hearing before a Judge.

What preparation is required?

It is expected that the parties will have taken all steps to ensure that any information required for a settlement has been gathered and exchanged prior to the Conciliation Conference so that there is no barrier to a settlement being reached on the day.  For example, the following should occur prior to the Conference taking place to ensure that the parties may make the most of a Conciliation Conference:

  1. Each party has provided the other with copies of all relevant financial documents;
  2. Valuations have been obtained for all assets the value of which is in dispute, such as properties and/or business interests; and
  3. The trustee of any superannuation fund from which there is likely to be a superannuation split has been provided with ‘procedural fairness’ regarding any proposed superannuation orders.

What happens at the Conference?

At the commencement of the Conference the Registrar will outline the process to each party and attempt to identify the parties’ respective positions and the issues which remain in dispute.  Often the Registrar will then give their view as to the likely outcome should the matter come before a Judge and encourage the parties to reach a settlement.  Parties (and their lawyers if the parties are legally represented) will then be provided with an opportunity to commence settlement negotiations between them.

Should the parties be able to reach agreement at the Conference, the Registrar is empowered to make final orders by consent finalising the Court proceedings on the spot.  If no agreement is reached, however, the Registrar may make further procedural orders providing for anything further that must occur prior to a final hearing before a Judge (such as further discovery or valuation of assets) and set a date for the final hearing to occur.

Do I have to reach a settlement at a Conciliation Conference?

The Registrar cannot force a party to reach a settlement if they do not wish to do so.  It is not the Registrar’s role to make any determination as to the final outcome of the settlement but to advise and guide the parties in their settlement negotiations.

Settlement discussions at a Conciliation Conference are conducted on a ‘without prejudice’ basis and are accordingly confidential and cannot be used against a party in subsequent Court events.

If you are currently involved in family law litigation or are considering issuing proceedings in the Family Law Courts please contact our Family Law team by email family@mst.com.au or by telephone +61 8540 0200.