Conciliation is a process wherein participants, assisted by a third person called conciliator, identify issues in the dispute, develop solutions and options and endeavour to reach an agreement. Conciliation conferences are held before a case with financial and property dispute can be filed in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.
A final property order cannot be issued or made by a Family Court Judge if parties have not undergone a conciliation conference unless they are exempted by the law.
In conciliation conferences with financial or property disputes, it is the Registrar that functions as the conciliator but if the dispute involves parenting issues the Registrar will be assisted by family consultants. The functions of a conciliator are to give expert advice to the parties, make suggestions, on how to resolve the dispute, and inform the parties of the possible outcomes should the case reach the court. The conciliator must actively encourage the parties to reach an agreement because the aim of the conference is to try to settle some or all of the issues in dispute. The lawyers of the parties may attend a conciliation conference.
The conciliator is the one who will manage the dispute resolution process, set the ground rules and ensure that the parties conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Hence, the structure or the flow of the conference will depend on the conciliator. Usually, the conference will commence with a joint session with the parties, their lawyers and the Registrar unless the latter finds that there are security or safety concerns.
The following is the summary of steps followed during the conciliation conference:
Phase one: Introductions
Phase four: Finalise case/determine future case management
If the parties have reached an agreement, consent orders may be approved by the Registrar. There are some consent orders, however, that need to be referred to the judge or for which the lawyers of the parties may need more time to draft.
If there is no agreement for some or all of the issues in dispute, the Registrar will make procedural orders and the case referred back to the federal magistrate in the Federal Circuit Court, or to the Registrar's or Judge's docket for mention in the Family Court and parties will receive instructions in preparation for trial. Regardless of whether or not a settlement is reached, the Registrar will complete an outcome sheet that will be attached to the court file.