The FDR practitioner acts as a neutral or unbiased mediator at a meeting between him or her and the two parties concerned. The meeting usually involves the couple being jointly present, but they may be separated physically if there has been a proven history of violence in the relationship.
FDR is by no means always successful and even if it is successful and leads to a formal agreement being made between the two parties then it is not legally binding. The agreement may be formalised by preparing a written agreement which is signed by the two parties either at the time of the FDR meeting or with the help of a lawyer later.
However, if the agreement is not accepted later on by one or other of the parents, then there may be no other recourse except an application to Court for a resolution of the conflict.
FDR is normally necessary before a couple can take their parenting dispute to Court. If FDR has not been shown to have been attempted, then it may mean that the Court will reassess the amount of court fees involved in any court appearance.
If FDR is attempted but fails to achieve a satisfactory outcome, then the FDR practitioner will give both parties a certificate which they can use to gain access to Court. There are several reasons why a couple may be exempt from going to FDR first. These will be discussed later.
The FDR practitioner will not actually tell either of the parents what they should do and will not impose an agreement on them. Any agreement must follow an orderly discussion of the issues surrounding a dispute between the parents over what to do about their children and must involve a consensus.
The FDR process will be regarded as having failed if one or the other of the two parents fails to show up or there is such strong, continued disagreement that no consensus arrangement can be made, or there is a threat of actual or potential violence at the meeting.
In any of these situations, the meeting will be terminated. The FDR practitioner may also decide that the session should be terminated, even if the two parties have genuinely tried to explore a working arrangement, but have made no real progress.
A couple or either parent can seek a resolution in Court if any of the following situations apply to them:
The Court may still require a parent to attend FDR even if there has been a history of abuse or violence in the family, so that information about options can be provided. FDR can still be used to explore a suitable parenting arrangement even if there has been a history of family violence, but this should be only considered after careful consideration. The process by which the FDR session takes place may me substantially modified in view of the relationship.
It must be stressed that FDR works best when the two parents are reasonably well balanced in terms of personalities. If one of the two people tends to dominate the other, then it is unlikely that a joint meeting will be successful as the weaker person is more likely to acquiesce to the other’s wishes even if it is not what he or she really wants.
Also, where there has been a real history of violence, then FDR, where attempted, has to take this into consideration and it is likely that the two parties will be physically separated in time or space and the practitioner will attempt to discuss the issues with each partner separately.
When this happens at the same location and time, then the meeting is often referred to as a ‘shuttle meeting’ when the two parties are sitting in separate rooms and the practitioner alternates his or her discussion with each person separately while attempting to negotiate an agreement.
The FDR session may also be held over the telephone. This is basically the same as a shuttle session as the practitioner talks to each partner consecutively but separately over the phone and attempts to do what would be normally done at a physical meeting.
The other option for a woman who has experienced intimidation, abuse or violence from her husband yet still wants to avoid court and go ahead with FDR is to use a lawyer to represent her. The lawyer will then sit in on any FDR session and will serve as a reasonable guarantee that the session will proceed peacefully.