Family Court reforms put children first

  • Judith Collins

Justice Minister Judith Collins today unveiled the Government’s plans to reform the Family Court – the first significant changes to the Court since it was established in 1981.

The proposals respond to the serious concerns about the Family Court raised by the public, judges, lawyers and counsellors during a comprehensive review of the Court, completed earlier this year.

Ms Collins says New Zealand needs a modern, accessible family justice system that is efficient, effective and more responsive to children and vulnerable people.

“Our reforms will ensure the Family Court renews its focus towards those who need it most. The Court must put the needs of children first, rather than those of private couples with relationship issues.

“To better support victims of domestic violence, we’re increasing the penalty for breaching a protection order, recognising ‘economic abuse’ as a form of psychological abuse, and improving stopping domestic violence programmes.

“We’re introducing a new Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service which will become a cornerstone feature of our family justice system, particularly for Care of Children Act cases. FDR will minimise the harmful impact conflict has on children with about 4,000 fewer court applications and 2,000 fewer children going to Court each year.

“We are also aligning the Family Court with the District and High Courts by introducing three new Court ‘tracks’ cases will follow, which support people as they navigate parts of the Court independently.

“Improved information resources and online tools will help simplify Court processes making it easier to complete new standardised forms, such as questionnaire affidavits.

“People who need immediate access to Court, legal representation and legal aid, or Court funded counselling will get it. This is not changing. What is changing is that for some private matters, people will be supported to resolve their disputes without the need to go to Court,” Ms Collins says.

Key proposals for changes to the Family Court include:

  • increasing the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two years to three years imprisonment
  • improving domestic violence treatment programmes
  • extending the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act to include ‘economic abuse’
  • making participation in the successful Parenting through Separation course mandatory for most Court applicants
  • introducing a new Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service to help people get on with their lives more quickly
  • introducing three new Court tracks to support people to navigate parts of the Court independently
  • making the Court more efficient and effective, providing better information and Court forms, such as a standardised questionnaire affidavit, and
  • targeting the use of court professionals to where they are needed most.

A Family Court Reform Bill will be introduced to the House later this year and will be referred to select committee where anyone with an interest in the Family Court will have an opportunity to have their say on the Bill.

More information about the Family Court reforms is available from