COURT

Children must come first in Family Court

Saturday 13 October 2012, 2:23PM
By Judith Collins
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Justice Minister Judith Collins rejects comments made today by the former chair of the Expert Reference Group on Family Court reform, Antony Mahon.

Ms Collins says recommendations made by the Expert Reference Group have been helpful in forming the Government’s proposals for reform, but they are not the only basis for the reforms.

“Mr Mahon, former chair of the Reference Group knows very well that a range of views on the reform of the Family Court have been considered – serious concerns about the court were raised by the public, judges, lawyers and counsellors.

“Recommendations for reform have been widely consulted on and most recommendations from the Expert Reference Group have been taken up.

“For example, a key recommendation from the Reference Group is to implement Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). I am pleased to say that FDR will become the cornerstone of our family justice system.

“Mr Mahan well knows that the proposed cost ($897) for Family Dispute Resolution is much less than the cost of employing a lawyer. The fee is split equally between parents and for those with limited means, the fee will be subsidised. For each parent, this will cost about the same as one hour of a lawyer’s time but will cover up to six sessions with a mediator,” Ms Collins says.

Other key recommendations from the Reference Group included in the reforms are to improve information resources for court users, and to put in place simple ‘tracks’ for cases to follow.

“By improving information and supporting parents to resolve their simple issues outside court, everyone will benefit – especially children.

“We want court processes, and parents, to put the needs of children first. The expertise of lawyers and judges should only be used when really needed and not for resolving simple relationship issues like which parent a child will stay with over a long weekend.

“Mr Mahon has also made some irresponsible comments about interim arrangements for children which are simply incorrect.

“There will still be interim orders. No final orders will be made on a without notice application - this would be contrary to the rules of natural justice. Final orders can be made after a hearing and there will be a simple process for parties to make changes by consent.  This will have the same benefits of “trialling” an arrangement.

“The aim of our reforms is to support parents put the needs of their children first and take responsibility for resolving their disputes outside court,” Ms Collins says.

More information about the Family Court reforms is available from www.justice.govt.nz.