New resource to support victim-survivors going to court, Family Court related reports and updates

Thu 13 Jul 2023

The Backbone Collective created a new guide for victim-survivors to manage risk and harm when going to Family Court. Related news includes a UN report on parental alienation and child custody, and Family Court updates.

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New resource guide from Backbone Collective

The Backbone Collective has published a new resource, Reducing risk and harm when going to Family Court: An Information Guide for Victim-Survivors (2023).

The guide provides information for victim-survivors of family and sexual violence. It has information about the resources available to help reduce risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm when going to the New Zealand Family Court. It also has information related to interpreters and accessibility.

The guide pulls together a range of tips, advice and information into one place. Backbone compiled this from:

  • relevant legislation
  • interviews with people who work at Family Court
  • support and resources from online resources like the Law Manual from Community Law and specialist organisation resources for managing trauma responses
  • insights, experiences and feedback from victim-survivors.

In 2017, Backbone Collective surveyed 496 women victim-survivors about their experiences of the New Zealand Family Court. 58% of the survey participants said they had been threatened, intimidated, or physically assaulted by their abuser while attending court-related appointments or hearings. For more information, see the survey report Out of the frying pan and into the fire: Women’s experiences of the New Zealand Family Court (2017).

Download the guide or see the black and white print-friendly version.

Update: In August 2023, the Ministry of Justice updated information for families and whānau on their website related to Family court including about Family Court, family violence and care of children.

Related news

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem, published her report on Custody, violence against women and violence against children (A/HRC/53/36). The report examines gender bias in family court systems globally including parental alienation. The UN Rapporteur's media statement highlights:

"Alsalem’s report underlines that the use of the unfounded and unscientific concept of parental alienation is highly gendered. While it is invoked against both fathers and mothers, it is predominantly used against mothers. The consequences of biased custody decisions can be detrimental and irreversible to those concerned leading to a continuum of violence before and after separation, the expert said. Despite these grave consequences “parental alienation’ and related pseudo-concepts are embedded and endorsed in legal systems across jurisdictions, including amongst evaluators tasked with reporting to family courts on the best interest of the child."

She spoke about the report at the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (see the first 10 minutes of the recording). The UN Rapporteur called for submissions to inform this report. Some Aotearoa New Zealand organisations have made their submissions public including the Backbone Collective and the Family Violence Death Review Committee.

The National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges published the brief article, Rethinking ‘risk’: using risk assessment data in family violence and safety work. It summarises findings from a review of their new risk assessment tool. The data draws on the first 500 risk assessments completed when women accessed Women’s Refuge. Findings highlight the types, intensity and severity of risks experienced by women.

The Ministry of Justice published the final report from the review of restorative justice in July 2023. The review looked at how the restorative justice system is working and what could be improved. The Restorative Justice Review: Findings report outlines 10 recommendations including reviewing the practice standards for family violence restorative justice cases and improving training for restorative justice facilitators related to family violence.

Government has proactively released the Cabinet paper and minute related to the Budget 2022 initiative on a cross-sector strategy and operating model for improving outcomes for victims of Crime. See the Proactive release – Better Outcomes for Victims: Work Programme.

The Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill passed parliament and received Royal Assent in June 2023. The bill establishes a new role known as a Family Court Associate who will handle a mix of judicial and registrar tasks. Justice Minister Kiri Allen's media release notes "Matters that are more complex or have a significant impact on human rights will still be completed by judges, for example, most matters under the Family Violence Act and final decisions on the care of children under the Care of Children Act."

MP Angie Warren-Clark member's bill, Family Proceedings (Dissolution for Family Violence) Amendment Bill, was pulled from the biscuit tin in May 2023 and is being considered by Parliament.

Published in November 2022, a series of short briefs highlight findings from research on relationship property division in New Zealand by legal academics Megan Gollop and Nicola Taylor. Several of the briefs include consideration of family violence, specifically The Challenges and Impact of Relationship Property Division.

In December 2022, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia launched Lighthouse after a successful pilot. Lighthouse is designed to identify family safety risks related to family violence as early as possible and support case management decisions that are risk-informed. Australia’s federal parliament is also considering reforms to family law.

Related media

Bar too high for urgent protection orders - family court lawyer, RNZ, 16.01.2024

Woman vindicated after High Court rules Family Court judge acted unfairly, RNZ, 06.12.2023

Family Court Judge in 'Mrs P' hearing acted unfairly - High Court, Stuff, 06.12.2023

Oranga Tamariki apologises after placing child in care of attempted-murderer dad, offers financial payout, NZ Herald, 01.10.2023

Growing number of people representing themselves in civil cases, RNZ, 21.09.2023

Court appointed Counsel Remuneration Working Group established – Ministry of Justice and Law Society, New Zealand Law Society news, 06.09.2023

Divorce law amendment bill hearing a ‘momentous occasion’ for survivor, The Press, 31.08.2023

Australia’s family law overhaul a step closer as inquiry endorses focus on child’s best interest, The Guardian, 25.08.2023

Family Court is an unsafe space for victims of family violence, Newsroom, 26.08.2023

Government delivers changes for fairer access to legal assistance, Beehive media release, 24.08.2023

Justice Minister discusses major delays in court system, RNZ, 10.08.2023

Legal aid shortfalls leave people forced to represent themselves in court, RNZ, 07.08.2023

Self-representation on the rise in family court, RNZ, 07.08.2023

Family Court open day provides key knowledge, SunLive, 13.07.2023

Court system delays continue to create backlogs, NZ Herald, 12.07.2023

There may be unintended consequences following the litigation abuse law change, Stuff, 29.04.2023

An abuser filed 100 court claims against his ex-wife. The Government is going to change the law to stop perpetrators like him, Stuff, 21.04.2023

Practical changes give victims more rights and support in justice system, Beehive media release, 21.04.2023

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