If your relationship breaks down and children are involved, you will need to work with your former partner to establish an agreement about parenting arrangements.
But in many cases, parents cannot come to an agreement between themselves - in which case, Australian family law requires them to participate in mediation.
Mediation - also referred to as family dispute resolution (FDR) must be considered before court proceedings can be contemplated and there are a number of community organisations that can provide this service.
Guided by an FDR practitioner, parents will discuss family issues and identify a range of options before making a mutual decision that benefits all parties.
FDR practitioners must be accredited to issue certificates under the Family Law Act, so it is essential to seek out a representative with the proper credentials
One of the first ports of call for many parents seeking FDR is the Family Relationship Centre - a government-funded community organisation that offers support from legal experts, psychologists and social workers.
FDR practitioners work objectively and do not take sides. Unlike counsellors, who focus on emotional issues, an FDR practitioner works to resolve specific disputes.
The first step is to assess your situation to ensure that family dispute resolution is the appropriate course of action to take. FDR is not a requirement if there has been - or there is a risk of - child abuse or family violence, or if one or more parties is not able to participate effectively for any reason.
If you are a candidate for FDR, a parenting plan - made in writing, dated and signed by both parties - is the optimal result. This is a formal arrangement for the care of your children and can be renegotiated over time if necessary.
Many parents wish to make their parenting plan - or subsequent financial agreement - legally binding. This can be accomplished by making an application to the court to turn your agreement into a consent order.
If you choose to take this approach, a family lawyer can help guide you through the process.
Likewise, if no agreement can be reached by FDR, you may still need to go to court because of a parenting order. In this case, you will need to get a certificate from an accredited FDR practitioner before the case can proceed.
An experienced family lawyer can help you obtain the information you need to bring a case before the court if necessary.