Williams found those professionals involved in the process overwhelmingly supportive of conferencing for custody and access matters.
Legal Aid Settlement Conferences
9.88In November 1994, the Legal Aid Office announced the establishment of a scheme for Settlement Conferences. These would be similar to the existing Legal Aid Conferences, but intended for those cases which fell outside the current custody/access guidelines. Legal aid could be granted where the parties have not been separated in the preceding 6 weeks; where there is no “genuine” dispute about custody;1021 where a previous agreement reached at a legal aid conference has not been adhered to;1022 where aid is sought to vary custody orders less than two years old or to vary existing access orders; or where there is not strictly a “denial” of access.1023
Access mediation scheme
9.89 The Legal Aid office in Brisbane also operates a voluntary “Access Mediation” scheme run by in-house social workers.1024 It targets those who are outside the guidelines for a Legal Aid or Settlement Conference. However, they must complete counselling first if they have already commenced it. The scheme is also for those who want to update access arrangements already reached in a Legal Aid Conference, Settlement Conference, or by a consent order, or where the wishes of children over the age of 12 are the major factors.
9.90These are interesting developments in Australia. The combination of funding for community mediation programmes and for Family Court programmes shows some recognition by the Federal Government of the research results that mediating in the “shadow of the law” may not be as successful as early intervention prior to the issue of proceedings.
1021 Where it is considered that it would promote the interests of the children and where there is an access issue attached.
1022 This would be where there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the last conference.
1023 This is if attempting resolution will promote the children’s interests.
1024 Dispute Resolution Newsletter, Issue No. 1, November 1994.