Reforms put children at heart of Family CourtJustice
The Government’s reforms of our family justice system come into force on Monday 31 March, Justice Minister Judith Collins announced today.
Ms Collins told the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand (AMINZ) Breakfast meeting in Auckland this morning that the reforms mark the most significant changes to New Zealand’s Family Court since its establishment 33 years ago.
“Our reforms are the culmination of three years of work to bring New Zealand’s family justice system into the 21st Century,” Ms Collins says.
“The 2011 review of the Family Court – which involved input from Family Court lawyers, Judges, counsellors and psychologists – confirmed what everyone knew and had been unable to address: far too many people were going to court unnecessarily and cases were taking far too long to resolve.
“This Government’s reforms empower people to resolve their parenting matters outside court and minimise the stress children often face when their parents separate. We’re ensuring the Court focuses on those cases that most need judicial expertise, especially those cases involving domestic violence.”
Ms Collins says the centrepiece of the out-of-court system is the new Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) service.
“The FDR service will be fully funded by the Government for those who meet the income threshold for civil legal aid – it’s estimated about 60 per cent of participants will be eligible,” Ms Collins says.
“The Government will also ensure the cost of FDR is affordable for others by providing an option to access FDR for $897 including GST, per case. This will be shared by all parties to the dispute, so an individual will pay significantly less than this amount.”
All couples will be required to complete FDR before they file with the Family Court. However, cases involving urgency – such as domestic violence or if there are concerns for the safety of children – will continue to go straight to the Family Court. FDR will be supported by a free Family Legal Advice Service and an expansion of the successful Parenting through Separation programme. A new Family Justice website was also launched today by the Ministry of Justice as a first port of call for all family justice issues.
Ms Collins says the reforms, and the introduction of FDR, will help to change the way New Zealanders think about family law.
“If we can keep people out of court where possible, if we can get them to take responsibility for their own actions – and put the welfare of their children to the forefront – we will be on the right path to bringing family law into a new era.”