Marriage, families and separation

This brochure provides information for people considering or affected by separation or divorce.

It includes information about:

  • the social and legal effects of separation
  • the services provided to families by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (The Court) and by government, community and other agencies, and
  • some of the steps involved in court proceedings.


Separation can be an upsetting experience for everyone involved. It is understandable that you may feel stressed at this time. It is important for you and your children that you have the appropriate support to help you through this difficult time.

When you separate, you and your former partner may need to make important decisions about the future care of your children and how to divide your property, money and belongings. Working through these issues is often difficult and emotionally challenging.

Separation can also be a stressful time for your children. They may experience a range of emotions that are difficult for them to deal with and talk about with you. They may also behave in ways that are unusual for them.

There are services in the community that can help:

  • you and your partner work through any problems in your relationship
  • you and your children adjust to separation or divorce
  • you and your former partner reach an agreement, and
  • you and your family adjust to and comply with court orders.

To find a community service near you:

Legal advice

If you are considering separation or have separated, you should seek legal advice. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities, and explain how the law applies to your case. A lawyer can also explain and help you reach an agreement with your former partner without going to court. You can get legal advice from a:

  • legal aid office
  • community legal centre, or
  • private law firm.

Court staff can help you with questions about court forms and court processes, but cannot give you legal advice.

Personal safety

If you have any concerns about your safety while attending court, please call 1300 352 000 before your court appointment or hearing. Options for your safety at court will be discussed and arrangements put in place. By law, people must inform the Court if there is an existing or pending family violence order involving themselves or their children. More detail may be found in the fact sheet Do you have fears for your safety when attending court?

Non-court based family services

People considering separation or divorce, and those affected by it, are encouraged to use services in the community to help resolve issues.

Community-based services that can help you and your family include:

FAMILY COUNSELLING – a process in which a family counsellor helps people deal with personal and interpersonal issues relating to families, relationships, marriage, separation and divorce.

FAMILY DISPUTE RESOLUTION – a process in which a family dispute resolution (FDR) practitioner, independent of all the parties, helps people resolve some or all of their disputes with each other during and after separation and divorce. To obtain a list of FDR services, go to

ARBITRATION – a process in which parties to a dispute present arguments and evidence to an arbitrator, who makes a determination to resolve the dispute. You can get a list of arbitrators from the Australian Institute of Family Law Arbitrators and Mediators (AIFLAM). Go to or call 1300 511 916.

If there is a history of family violence, it may not be appropriate to attend the services listed above. Speak to court staff about your options and the support services that are available.

Confidentiality in non-court based family services

Generally, what is said during family counselling and family dispute resolution is confidential and cannot be used in court later. There are exceptions; for instance:

  • where there is a legal requirement to report a suspicion or risk of child abuse and violence or threats of violence, and
  • the Court may order that a family counsellor or family dispute resolution practitioner give evidence of an admission or disclosure of abuse made during a session.

NOTE: Meetings, discussions or other exchanges with arbitrators are not confidential, and may be used in court.

Reaching an agreement

What are the advantages?

Reaching an agreement with your former partner can offer many advantages, such as:

  • you make your own decisions
  • you greatly reduce the financial and emotional costs of legal proceedings
  • your continuing relationship as parents, if you have children, is likely to work better
  • you are able to move forward and make a new life for yourself, and
  • you may improve communication with your former partner and be better able to resolve disputes in the future.

Parenting plans

A parenting plan is a written agreement that sets out parenting arrangements for children.

Because it is worked out and agreed jointly, you and your former partner do not need to go to court. Unless the Court orders otherwise, you and your former partner can agree to change a parenting order (made on or after 1 July 2006) by entering into a parenting plan. A parenting plan is not legally enforceable. It is different from a parenting order, which is made by the Court.

For more information about parenting plans and how they work, speak to staff at a community-based service and/or seek legal advice.

Consent orders

A consent order is a written agreement that is approved by the Court. A consent order can cover parenting arrangements for children as well as financial arrangements such as property and spouse or de facto maintenance.

Consent orders have the same legal force as if they had been made by a judicial officer after a court hearing.

You and your former partner can apply for consent orders to be made without going to court. For more information visit

Going to court

If you cannot reach an agreement, you may consider applying to the Court for orders. Going to court is often a stressful time for many people. It can also be expensive and time consuming. However, sometimes it may be the only way to deal with a dispute.

Even when a court application is filed, it is possible to reach an agreement, at any stage, without the need for a court hearing. In fact, a judicial officer is needed to make a final decision in only a very small percentage of cases started in court.

Compulsory Family Dispute Resolution

Before you apply to the Court for a parenting order, including those seeking changes to an existing parenting order, you need to attend FDR and obtain a certificate from a registered FDR provider.

There are some exceptions to this requirement, such as cases involving family violence, child abuse, or urgency. For more information about these exceptions, see the fact sheet Compulsory pre-fling Family Dispute Resolution – court procedures and requirements.

For more information about FDR and how to locate a registered FDR provider, go to or call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321.

NOTE: If you are required to provide a certificate and you fail to do so, the Court cannot accept your application.

Pre-action procedures

Parties intending to apply for parenting and/or financial orders in the Court must follow preaction procedures, which include attending dispute resolution, before filing an application. You can seek an exemption from the Court from complying with the pre-action procedures in certain circumstances.

The aim of the pre-action procedures is to explore areas of resolution and where a dispute cannot be resolved, to narrow the issues which require a court decision.

You will need to file a Genuine Steps Certificate with your application to the Court which confirms you have complied with the pre-action procedures, or if you have not complied, what exemption you are seeking to rely on.

For more information about applying for parenting or financial orders in the Court, see the brochures Before you file – pre-action procedure for financial cases, and Before you file – pre-action procedure for parenting cases.

NOTE: the Court may not accept your application if you do not file a Genuine Steps Certificate with your application.

Steps involved in court proceedings

  1. Pre-action procedures
  2. Court application filed
  3. First court appointment or hearing
  4. Court Children’s Service (see below)
  5. Dispute resolution
  6. Preparation for final trial or hearing*
  7. Final trial or hearing

* may include additional court appointments or hearings.

Agreement may be reached at any stage, with consent orders made and the case finalised.

Different steps may apply in some cases. You can get more information about particular court appointments and hearings from

  • live chat on the website
  • by calling 1300 352 000, or
  • at your nearest court registry.

Commonwealth Courts Portal

Applications for divorce (and certain accompanying documents) must be electronically filed through the Commonwealth Courts Portal at

For more information and step-by-step guides see Divorce at

Court Children’s Service

The Court Children’s Service is run by psychologists and social workers who specialise in child and family issues after separation and divorce. They can assist you and the Court in many ways, such as:

  • helping you and the other party to resolve your dispute
  • conducting assessments and providing reports about your family, and
  • providing advice about external support services.

For more information, see the fact sheet Court Children’s Service.

Children at court

Generally, courts are not an appropriate place for children. You should make other arrangements for their care when you come to court.

Sometimes, children will need to attend court as part of an assessment being conducted by the Court Children’s Service or to speak with a lawyer. If this is your situation, you should check with court staff if any child care arrangements need to be made for the day.

Help in other languages

If you need to contact the Court, call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50. This is a free service.

If you need an interpreter to assist you at court, please contact the Court at least one week before your court appointment or hearing to discuss whether one can be arranged for you.

NOTE: interpreters cannot be arranged by the Court for divorce hearings. Please arrange for a family member, friend or support person to assist you at your divorce hearing.

Compliance with court orders

When an order is made, each person bound by the order must follow it. Once finalised, orders are available online through the Commonwealth Courts Portal. For more information about accessing orders (including divorce orders), see Access orders at

If the order is not complied with, you may file a court application. The Court can make an order to enforce an existing order. The Court may also make an order that discharges, varies or suspends the order or renews some or all of an earlier order, or adjourn the case to allow a person to apply for a further order that alters the existing order.

If the Court finds a person has breached (contravened) a parenting order, it may impose a range of penalties. For more information about this, see the fact sheet Compliance with parenting orders.

Family violence support

In an EMERGENCY dial 000

1800 Respect

A list of state and territory based family violence services is available at

Family Violence Law Help

The Family Violence Law Help website provides information about domestic and family violence and the law in Australia.

Other help available

Family Relationships Advice Line

The Family Relationship Advice Line is a national telephone service that helps families affected by relationship or separation issues, including information on parenting arrangements after separation. It can also refer callers to local services that provide assistance.

Family Relationship Centres

Family Relationship Centres:

  • provide information to help strengthen family relationships
  • help families access other services, and
  • provide confidential assistance for separating families; for instance, family dispute resolution.

For more information about Family Relationship Centres or to find a centre near you go to

  • or
  • call 1800 050 321.

Family Advocacy and Support Service

Each Australian state and territory has a Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS).

FASS provides free legal advice and support at court for people affected by domestic and family violence.

If you are worried about your safety at court or about going to court, please talk to your local FASS before your court date.

Services Australia

Child Support

Services Australia administers the Australian Government’s Child Support Scheme and helps parents take responsibility for the financial support of their children after separation.

There is a Parent’s Guide to Child Support available on the website:


Centrelink can help with:

  • financial assistance
  • child care costs, and
  • finding a job.

If you already receive a payment from Centrelink, you should contact them to advise of any changes to your circumstances to ensure you receive your correct entitlement.

Centrelink has information about payments for families on the website:

Attorney-General’s Department

The Attorney-General’s Department provides information for families and couples including resources to help you manage a family dispute.

Australia’s family law system helps people resolve the legal aspects of family relationship issues, including family relationship breakdown. It encourages people to agree on arrangements without going to court.

Go to the Families area of the website

This brochure provides general information only and is not provided as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should contact a lawyer before making a decision about what to do or applying to the Court. The Court cannot provide legal advice.

The Court respects your right to privacy and the security of your information.

You can read more about the Court’s commitments and legal obligations in the fact sheet, The Court and your privacy.

The fact sheet includes details about information protection under the privacy laws and where privacy laws do not apply.

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