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Family Court shake-up

05 Aug 2020

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By Tiffany Joyce, Solicitor, Aspiring Law

Attending Family Court can be a traumatic experience for children and parents alike. Extensive reforms of the family law system last took place in March 2014. The changes were aimed at resolving disputes without the need for families to go to court. However, it had the opposite effect and led to a rise in applications and negative impacts for children, parents and whanau.

Following a review in 2018, an independent panel identified the following key issues in the Family Court:

The unnecessary delay of resolution through the court: it was discovered that on average a matter in the Family Court takes 245 days to be resolved.

Insufficient level of support for parents, whānau and family: information to assist parties in litigation was either inaccessible or of poor quality and there was limited access to state-funded legal advice and representation.

The limited participation by children: children were not able to voice their concerns, and have their views heard. This resulted in children feeling isolated, lonely, anxious and stressed. Although children do not want to be decision-makers, they do want to participate in the decision-making process.

July saw the introduction of new legislation.

The solutions

In order to reduce delays, the new legislation reinstates legal representation in the early stages of a case. The previous 2014 reforms meant that lawyers could only represent parents in certain types of cases. For example, where an application was made as urgent and ‘without-notice’, or where the matter was set down for a ‘final hearing’. Now, all parents and whānau making applications under the Care of Children Act 2004, will have a choice to access legal representation.

Additionally, economically challenged parents and whānau may be entitled to a financial benefit through legal aid, which should prevent them from either not proceeding with their case, representing themselves, or having to find the money to pay for a lawyer. The initiative of introducing lawyers early on, should reduce the parties’ stress and provide parents, whānau and family with quality legal advice and representation.

The new legislation also makes it mandatory for lawyers to explain the proceedings to children so they can understand what their role is in the process and how their views will be considered. The legislation also establishes an expectation that parents consult their children on important matters that affect them.

Family Justice Liaison Officers will be present in the Family Court to assist lawyers to ensure that parents, whānau and family members receive information on the best possible options available and provide them with help on how to navigate the system.

The current reforms hope to achieve positive results, and better access to justice for all individuals involved in the Family Court.

If you have any questions, contact the Aspiring Law Family Law team. We would be happy to help.

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