Family Court reforms announced; family violence sector responds
The Government has announced its planned reforms to the Family Court. These follow the review by the Ministry of Justice completed earlier this year. Changes include a new "cornerstone" Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service.
The Green Party expressed concern about the potential risks to women and children involved in the FDR process. Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said,
“Justice Minister Judith Collins has said the victims of child abuse and domestic violence will not be required to go through mediation first but, without a sophisticated triage service, it will be impossible to know who is a victim of family violence.
“To force a woman to face a violent partner in mediation is dangerous to both her and any child she is protecting. Not every woman who leaves a violent partner has a protection order in her hand.
“As for cost, the Minister has announced subsidies will be available to people who meet the legal aid threshold, but unless the subsidy covers almost all the fee, it will be prohibitive to many. Officials estimate 1200 families a year could be put off due to cost."
The proposed cost of FDR is $780 plus GST. Parties are to contribute equally to the costs of attending FDR. Low income earners may apply to have their share of the fee subsidised.
Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei also welcomed the stated focus on the needs of children, but noted “in order to put children first, you have to prioritise the safety of the parent who protects them and we don’t see enough recognition of that in the review.”
Relationships Aotearoa Chief Executive, Fran Hoover, expressed concern about the interim arrangement to reduce the number of Government funded counselling sessions from six to one. “Common sense tells us that couples in conflict will not resolve differences in an hour, especially when it comes to separation and sorting out issues relating to their children," she said. “We are particularly concerned that family violence issues will go undetected. A significant number of the couples we see in the current system are experiencing family violence and this often only surfaces as the sessions progress.
Other proposed changes announced include expanding the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act to include economic abuse; allowing for a more individual, tailored appraoch to stopping violence programmes; and increasing the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two years to three years imprisonment.
A Family Court Reform Bill will be introduced to the House later in 2012. This will be referred to select committee and people will be able to make submissions on the Bill.
More information about the Family Court reforms is available from the Ministry of Justice here.
Click here for the Q+A proposals to reform the Family Court.