Family Court changes in effect from 31 March 2014

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Changes to the Family Court resulting from the Government's reforms came into effect on 31 March 2014. These include requiring most parents to attend the new Family Dispute Resolution service, restricting access to legal representation in many cases and replacing the 'Bristol clauses', which have required judges to consider a list of factors relating to the use of violence against the other parent or a child before approving unsupervised contact between the allegedly violent parent and their children.

FAQs on the changes have been provided by the Ministry of Justice.

Information for families can be found on a new Family Justice website, launched on 25 March 2014. (Update: this includes a new section on domestic violence.)

Background information on the reforms is available on the Ministry of Justice website.

The Family Courts Amendment Rules 2014 and Family Courts Amendment Rules (No 2) 2014 were passed on 21 January 2014.

Speaking at the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand (AMINZ) Breakfast, Justice Minister Judith Collins said, "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."

In the NZ Herald earlier in 2014, Bryan Gould commented, "The current orthodoxy is that the parties to a relationship breakdown should be encouraged to behave as much as possible like a 'normal' family, especially where children are involved. Shared parenting is the order of the day. But this is clearly not possible in cases of physical and sexual abuse - and it is no more appropriate in cases where the reason for the breakdown is the psychological abuse of one party by the other. ... The Family Court's preference for sending cases to mediation is meat and drink to the abuser. It is a chance to dominate the victim all over again, to recreate in her that sense that she cannot stand up for herself and that her abuser will always win. The legal process that should be protecting her from the abuser she has escaped from seems intent on thrusting her (and often her children) back into his control."

Update: The Ministry of Justice has awarded agencies Family Works and FairWay Resolution Ltd contracts to coordinate mediation between separating couples throughout the country.

Media:

Family mediation contracts finally settled, NZ Herald, 08.05.2014

PSN appointed to deliver family dispute resolution services, Voxy, 07.05.2014

Family justice reforms spark huge interest, Voxy, 07.04.2014

Risks in Family court reforms, Waatea News, 03.04.14

Family court consumers launch their own justice system, Scoop, 01.04.2014

Sweeping change to Family Court, Radio NZ, 31.03.14 

Changes carry risk, Editorial: Changes carry risk, Stuff, 31.03.14

Can you just stop fighting please? Stuff, 30.03.14

Family Court reform worries lawyers, Southland Times, 29.03.14

Lawyers prepared for new Family Court system, Voxy, 28.03.14

Family court changes 'likely to hit kids hardest', Voxy, 27.03.14

Family Court consumers upload recordings to Youtube, Voxy, 27.03.14

Deborah Hart: Breaking the warfare mentality of Family Court, NZ Herald, 27.03.14

No need now to go to war, Opinion, Dominion Post, 25.03.14

Reforms put children at heart of Family Court, Beehive: Judith Collins, 25.03.14

Changes to Family Court, Sunlive, 23.03.14

Law centres fear influx after court changes, Radio NZ, 26.01.14

Bryan Gould: Psychological abuse law is failing, NZ Herald, 24.01.14