Bill to better support children in the Family Court passes third reading

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has welcomed the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill passing its third reading. 

“We want to see a family justice system that places child wellbeing at its heart,” Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said.

The Bill emphasises the importance of engaging children in processes that affect their care.

It amends the Care of Children Act and the Family Dispute Resolution Act to establish children’s participation as a guiding principle.

“The Bill will enhance children’s participation in proceedings that affect them. It will help children feel supported and informed as they move through the family justice process,” said Justice Minister Faafoi.

“The current system can tend to make decisions about children without involving them. Providing children with an opportunity to express their views can help parents focus on the needs of their children. This may help children adjust to their parents’ separation and contribute to more durable care arrangements.”

The Bill will also reinforce expectations that people should be protected from family violence and expand lawyers’ duties in care of children proceedings.

Lawyers will be required to promote early resolution where appropriate, and lawyers representing children will have a legal requirement to explain the nature of proceedings to the children they represent.

The Bill also establishes legislative criteria for the appointment of a child’s lawyer to enable more effective representation of the child’s interests. It requires that, so far as is reasonable, the lawyer has the appropriate experience, training, personality and cultural background to represent the child.

“Together with other initiatives underway, this Bill will promote the Government’s vision of a family justice system which is safe and responsive to the diverse needs of those who are using it, and where all parties have a voice,” Kris Faafoi said.

The Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill forms part of an ongoing programme of work responding to Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau independent panel’s report, which examined the effectiveness of 2014 family justice reforms.

Other key changes include:

  • Reinstating legal representation in the early stages of Care of Children Act proceedings, with legal aid for eligible parties to increase access to advice and support for separating parties.
  • Establishing and recruiting for the role of Kaiārahi – Family Court Navigators - to help parents and whānau navigate the family justice system.
  • Developing quality, accessible information for children, parents and whānau
  • Securing funding for a new Family Court Associate role, which will be established in the Family Court to reduce judges’ administrative burden and enable faster resolution of cases. The role will be up and running in 2023.