Submissions open on Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill

Thu 11 Aug 2022

The government is consulting on the Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill.

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The Justice Committee is calling for submissions on the Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill.

The closing date for submissions is 14 September 2022.

The Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill proposes to create a new Family Court Associate role. The Family Court Associate would be a judicial officer, enabling them to take on some work currently undertaken by judges, such as making decisions in the early stages of proceedings. The purpose of this new role is to improve outcomes and reduce court delays for people who participate in Family Court proceedings, particularly children. 

The bill would amend the Family Court Act 1980 to provide for the appointment, jurisdiction and powers, remuneration, restrictions, and immunity of Family Court Associates. The amendments to the Act would also enable Family Court Associates to transfer certain proceedings to a Family Court Judge.

The submission information from the Justice Committee also notes:

"The bill would also amend the following Acts to give Family Court Associates some of the functions and powers of Family Court Judges in certain circumstances:

Adoption Act 1955

Care of Children Act 2004

Child Support Act 1991

Family Proceedings Act 1980

Family Violence Act 2018

Marriage Act 1955

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Property (Relationships) Act 1976

Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988

Status of Children Act 1969."

The submission information also notes "The Family Court Associate role is based on a recommendation made by the Independent Panel in its report about the 2014 family justice reforms, Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau." Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau is the final report of the Independent Panel examining the 2014 family justice reforms.

In announcing the bill, Justice Minister Kiri Allan said:

“We want Family Court judges to be able to concentrate on progressing cases, which can be hugely traumatic for children, through the court instead of time-consuming administrative matters, and these roles will help them do just that.”

Update: The select committee report has been published for the Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill. The Committee has recommended passing the bill with amendments. In addition, a number of additional reports from the Ministry of Justice providing advice on the proposed legislation have been published under the submissions.

Update: The Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill passed its 3rd reading on 30 May 2023.

Update: The first 6 Family Court Associates were appointed by Attorney-General Judith Collins in March 2024.

Other Family Court reforms

This bill is part of the Government's family law reform work based on the Independent Panel’s recommendations. This work has also included the establishment of Kaiārahi – Family Court Navigators and the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill.

When the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill passed its third reading, former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said “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.” The legislation also reinforces expectations that family violence should be taken into account in guardianship orders or parenting orders, and expands lawyer for children duties and expectations to be suitably qualified in care of children proceedings.

For more information see the parliamentary bill digest. The Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Act 2021 comes into force on a date that is 2 years after the date on which the Act received Royal assent. In their summary of the bill, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai noted next steps involve developing best practice guidance for child participation.

Related news

The Justice Committee is also calling for submissions on the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill and Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) No 175. The bill would require registered child sex offenders to provide additional information to Police before travelling overseas. The SOP would allow for the exchange of information between Customs and Police. The closing date to make a submission is 14 September 2022.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan has announced further details about the changes to the legal aid scheme. She noted changes will be implemented to the Legal Services Regulations 2011 and the Legal Services Act 2011. Her announcement included an overview of the changes:

  • "increasing the income eligibility thresholds by 15% from 1 January 2023, making 93,000 more people eligible for civil and family legal aid in the first year,
  • removing the legal aid user charge, payable by most civil and family legal aid recipients,
  • removing interest on repayment of unpaid legal debt,
  • increasing the debt repayment thresholds by 16.5% for debt established from 1 January 2023, relieving financial pressures for around 16,000 low-income and vulnerable New Zealanders, and
  • increasing the civil and family legal aid eligibility thresholds and debt repayment thresholds by an additional 1.9% per year with the last increase on 1 July 2025."

In response to the changes, Legal academic and researcher Bridgette Toy-Cronin writes:

"While these immediate improvements in the legal aid system are to be welcomed, the problems in the civil justice system run much deeper. Legal aid remains a system that helps only the poorest, leaving the better part of New Zealand in the ‘justice gap’, unable to pay for a lawyer but unable to access legal aid."

She goes on to say:

"Properly funding legal aid is vital to maintaining the rule of law – without access to the courts, laws are just on the books but don’t operate in real life.

But in a society where legal problems are a common occurrence, legal aid cannot provide the whole answer. We need to get creative about providing effective help without breaking the bank."

Toy-Cronin is part of a working group developing a strategic framework to improve access to civil justice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Learn more about the issues with the legal aid system from the Auckland District Law Society.

Research Fellow and Associate Professor Camilla Nelson published the research brief They Thought it was Safe: Securing Children's Safety and Rights in Australia's Family Law System (May 2022) and related podcast. Nelson presents findings from case studies of the impact of the Australian Federal Circuit and Family Court proceedings on children. She outlines 12 recommendations to minimise harm and improve children's rights during family law disputes. For more information see her book co-authored with Catharine Lumby, Broken: Children, Parents and Family Courts (2021). 

The Waitangi Tribunal has started the Justice Inquiry (WAI 3060). The Justice Inquiry is a Kaupapa (thematic) inquiry and will look at the New Zealand justice system in its entirety.

Related media

My marriage is finally over. My fight against New Zealand’s archaic divorce law goes on, The Spinoff, 30.11.2022

Government victim support scheme helps more alleged perpetrators than victims, no 'sexual violence champions' appointed, Newshub, 01.11.2022

Abuse victim Mrs P a step closer to appealing 'excoriating' court decision, Stuff, 31.10.2022

Family court fix too slow, Waatea News, 18.10.2022

‘The court can't stop him’: How a woman’s abusive ex-husband filed 100 court claims against her, and counting, Stuff, 21.08.2022

Justice delayed is justice denied, RNZ, 03.08.2022

Justice system backlog at “acute pinch point”, The Spinoff, 29.07.2022

Victims at risk as justice stalled due to 'exorbitant' court delays, Stuff, 28.07.2022

Divorce 'warfare': The legal tactics when marriage break-ups turn ugly, NZ Herald, 25.07.2022

Family Court 'unsafe' and 'brutal': UN human rights committee calls for inquiry, NZ Herald, 23.07.2022

The Divorce Diaries: ‘When I told my husband I wanted to separate, he cut me off financially’, Stuff, 20.07.2022

Kiritapu Allan | Minister of Conservation [interview], Waatea News, 06.07.2022

New family court roles to ease judge workloads and speed up cases, Stuff, 05.07.2022

Government action to tackle delays in Family Court, Beehive media release, 05.07.2022

‘Quite irreparable damage’: child family violence survivors on how court silenced and retraumatised them, The Conversation, 05.07.2022

Image: Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

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