After a separation, the best interests of the children should be the paramount consideration in making decisions about childcare arrangements.  If parties cannot agree on what is in the best interests of their children, there are several options available to assist them in resolving a dispute. 

Although the court can make binding decisions to resolve disputes, it might not always be the best first option due to the delays and costs involved.  Court proceedings also tend to increase the conflict between parents, which can be harmful in the long run for a co-parenting relationship. 

Because parents or guardians usually know the children personally, they are typically in the best position to make decisions about what is in the children’s best interests.  For this reason, it should be the goal of parents or guardians to negotiate directly about decisions affecting the children. 

If direct discussion fails to result in agreement, parties can ask for assistance from the Family Court by way of ‘Family Disputes Resolution’ (often called “FDR”).

FDR is where a trained mediator, with a background in working with families, assists the parties in a neutral and less formal environment to discuss the issues in dispute and guide the parties in working towards a resolution.  The aim of mediation is to help the parties to agree, and therefore the mediator will not make a decision for the parties. 

There is a cost involved with FDR but this usually is much less than going through formal court proceedings.  Some people will be eligible for funding of FDR, depending on their income. 

In addition to FDR, many parents benefit from attending a ‘Parenting Through Separation’ course (sometimes called “PTS”).  PTS is a free programme that helps the parties to navigate the issues of parenting when going through a separation.  More information about PTS programmes can be obtained from the Ministry of Justice website, or by clicking here.   

If a matter is urgent or mediation is not suitable (for instance where there is domestic violence), the parties may be able to apply to the Court for an urgent decision, without going through FDR.  However, this would only be in rare circumstances, and most parties tend to benefit from FDR. 

If you would like to apply for FDR you can obtain more information from the Ministry of Justice website, or by clicking here.